Proper posture is vital to helping the body operate as it should. Healthy spinal alignment helps prevent pain as well as provides the body with the ability to function at optimal levels. As students return to school after breaks, they are, in some cases, returning to a minefield of posture challenges. Carrying heavy backpacks and desks that are too small or too large are just a few of the obstacles that students face.
Poor posture can contribute to neck and back pain, headaches, over-stretched tendons and ligaments, excessive pressure on joints and even disc problems. The American Journal of Pain Management notes, a person’s posture affects and moderates every physiological function from breathing to hormonal production. Correct posture allows young bodies to grow strong and healthy. It also plays a part in the success of older students who want to appear more attractive and confident in presentations and interviews.
Think posture is nothing more than standing up straight? In reality, it is not just the spine, but the feet, arms, legs, neck and head that must all be in line as the body was designed to achieve proper posture.
Unfortunately, with the rise of technology in education, students spend more time typing or working with various programs on a computer or tablet. At least 70 percent of America’s 30 million elementary school students use computers. A 2016 study conducted by a team of researchers from Cornell University (http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/Pub/HFPresentations/NEEkidsweb.pdf) found that 40% of the elementary school children they studied used computer workstations that put them at postural risk. The remaining 60% scored in a range indicating “some concern.”
“Emphasis needs to be placed on teaching children how to properly use computer workstations,” stated Dr. Scott Bautch, a past president of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) Council on Occupational Health. He adds: “Poor work habits and computer workstations that don’t fit a child’s body during the developing years can have harmful physical effects that can last a lifetime.”
The good news is that there are ways students can improve their posture, both sitting and standing, in their daily routines at school.
Sitting is as important as standing posture – especially considering most students spend a good deal of time sitting at their desks. The human body is made to have a slight curve in the lumbar (lower back) region.
Tim Derrick, professor of kinesiology, says sitting up straight “will have the effect of actually putting a slight curve into your spine — into the lower back region — and that curve in your spine is a good thing.” Therefore, when a student slouches at their desk and eliminates that curve, the low back muscles have to work harder. When those muscles become tired, the ligaments are pulled and may become overstretched. This can lead to various back and even neck problems.
One way to help preserve that lumbar curve is by using a small cushion (or rolled up towel/jacket, etc) at that area when sitting. The ACA also advises that feet be placed flat on the floor, legs uncrossed, ankles slightly in front of the knees. If the child is in a desk that is much too small or large, it may be advisable to ask if another desk is available that may provide a better fit. Derrick suggests having the arms down to the side with the weight right below the shoulder. Outstretched arms force more muscles to contract for longer periods of time. Finally, the head should be held erect rather than looking down into the lap. The further forward your head goes, the more stress is placed on the neck.
As more textbooks are being accessed via computer or tablets, it is important to develop good habits to prevent long term issues from developing. Placing the tablet on a stand on a table or some other way to prop it up can be a simple way to avoid these postural pitfalls. When using the computer, a desktop is generally the easiest way to maintain good posture. When using a laptop for extended period of time, try to get a separate keyboard. This will enable the student to keep arms down and head up.
When standing, one of the primary factors is keeping weight evenly distributed. The ACA states that proper standing posture incorporates bearing weight primarily on the balls of the feet and standing straight with shoulders back, stomach tucked in, knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart.
Heavy backpacks should be carried on both shoulders, not slung over one side. If the backpack is very heavy, the student can carry some books in their arms to further equalize weight distribution. There are now rolling backpacks to make things even easier. However, attention should be paid to the handle height, to ensure the student isn’t walking bent to the side in order to reach the handle.
We want the best for our children, and need to consider their postural health as a part of that. Teaching students the keys of good posture from a young age will help them grow up with stronger and healthier bodies. Carrying those good posture habits into adulthood will help reduce their overall health and pain complications as well as help them go through the aging process with less discomfort.
Encourage your child to exercise good posture habits – and model them yourself. Seeing the importance you place on spinal health, will help them learn from your example. Small changes in their daily routines can help them maintain good posture, reduce pain and discomfort and allow for proper spinal alignment.
Regular chiropractic care can help address postural issues with spinal adjustments, exercises and stretches geared toward problem areas, and through advice for proper ergonomics specifically for your child. If you do not have a chiropractor, you can find a doctor near you at tnchiro.com.
Other TCA articles that may be of interest……
REFERENCE: Hrdlicka, Jenna – “Posture Effects on Students” Iowa State Daily Dec14, 2015. http://www.iowastatedaily.com/self/article_5e6ffcdc-9d60-11e5-a203-3754935a0219.html