When we ask our bodies to stay in one posture through the day … it can lead to aches, pains and weaknesses
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Children’s poor posture is more than appearance; it can affect their health, short-term and possibly long-term. In the past 15 months, as children spent more time hunched over screens and less time active, the effect has become more pronounced.
“It can lead to discomfort and pain,” said Steven Blatt, M.D., SUNY Upstate professor of pediatrics, and director and medical director of the general pediatric division. “It’s a sign you’re engaging in non-healthy activity sitting around all the time. Being in front of a screen all day long is not good. It’s a sign we need to change behavior as opposed to changing the physics of our spine.”
While he is not aware of studies linking poor posture with long-term health outcomes, it is arguable that no generation has spent as much time inactive and in the unnatural position of hunkering over a screen. The short-term consequences are more readily evident.
“With all the devices they’re using for online learning, it’s easy to be in poor posture throughout the day,” said Erica Callahan, chiropractic doctor with a master’s degree in applied clinical nutrition. She works as an assistant professor at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls. “We need to be cognizant of posture. We don’t want aches and pains to start earlier than they should.”
She said that children should sit with their bottoms to the back of the chair, with their back in a natural posture, hips and knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet flat. As supportive as that seated posture is, children also need variation, such as sitting on an exercise ball and breaks to stand, stretch and move.
One example Callahan calls the butterfly stretch: stand up straight, put their arms out like wings, and move them up, forward and back to stretch the arms and shoulders.
“Even overhead stretching and side to side can help,” Callahan said.
Yoga stretches such as “child pose” may help. To perform this move, children sit on the floor with their legs folded under them and move their arms and chest forward to the floor.
She recommends that children take a short break to get up and move every hour of the day and engage in a physical activity each day.
“When we ask our bodies to stay in one posture through the day, it shortens the muscles in the front and stretches the muscles in the back,” Callahan said. “It can lead to aches and pains and weaknesses. You might not notice it until you’re older. Then those aches and pains are more magnified.”
Excessive use of laptops, phones and tablets recently has increased the number of young patients visiting Vincent Sportelli, chiropractor and owner of Sportelli Chiropractic Health & Wellness Center in Syracuse.
“As kids slump over cell phones and other screens, they get what we call ‘text neck,’” he said. “It compromises their spinal health and growth. Sometimes, the posture is so acute that they can foster acquired scoliosis. It can happen easily with continuous contortion of spinal integrity.”
He encourages parents to monitor their children’s posture and to provide an appropriate, ergonomic workspace for their schoolwork. He also recommends that children get moving, especially since school gym classes and sports have been nearly nonexistent for the past year. Most days have lacked recess and even the minimal movement of walking class to class. In addition to inactivity’s harm to the musculoskeletal system, it has also contributed to weight gain.
“Some patients I haven’t seen in a year or two put on 10 to 12 pounds, and these are kids,” Sportelli said. “It adds to the obesity issue. The pandemic has been a traumatic and harmful experience in many ways.”
Edward J. Galvin Jr., chiropractor and founder at Port City Chiropractic, PC in Oswego, wants parents to become more aware of how much time children spend sitting.
“The best thing kids could do right now is run around and play,” Galvin said. “Biking, jumping rope, swimming are all good things for posture and muscle development.”
Children can learn better posture by standing against the wall with the head and shoulders touching it. Or they can lie on the floor flat on their backs to flatten out the spine.
Many students learning at home have just a few minutes between their online classes and they have to hurry to log onto their next class.
“Encourage them to take breaks, especially when reading or playing video games,” Galvin said. “Look at the ceiling for 15 seconds and look right and left. Frequently, they could squeeze their shoulder blades together to move their shoulders back. Get up at least every half hour or hour for 20 seconds.”
By taking time to stretch and by getting more movement in each day, children can counteract the effects of their screen time.