From a clinical perspective, postural training is one of the main aspects we teach. It’s best to train people for better posture while standing, sitting and moving. It’s essential for proper spinal loading and has been shown to decrease the occurrence of back and neck pain both short and long term. The downside to this, the majority of people that come in for therapy due to posture, already have pain or discomfort. The case can be made that the issue at hand could have been prevented, if proper posture was taught and maintained before the occurrence of the dysfunction.
Now we can ask, how early should we teach about this correct posture? Adulthood? Adolescents? Toddler? The simple answer is to start as early as possible. However, numerous studies have shown that postural issues in children normally don’t start until after they have started school. In my opinion, the reason for this is due to the prolonged seated position, with the head tilted forward and down to read something at desk height. It’s is very hard, if not nearly impossible, to maintain proper curvature of the cervical or lumbar spine if one is incorrectly distorted. As a quick experiment, try to round your lumbar spine while keeping proper thoracic extension and cervical posture. Rather tough to accomplish.
As we determine that sitting is a part of the problem, do we just tell our kids not to sit at school? I’m sure many teachers reading this might cringe at the thought of the whole class standing throughout an entire school day. I agree, there needs to be order and organization. But perhaps we can have designated standing and stretching moments throughout the day. If you are a teacher, reading this and currently doing some form of this, thank you. You are my hero.
Now if we must sit, perhaps we should learn to sit properly. There are several ergonomic chairs and designs to help posture. I prefer to use the musculature in our torso. Let’s start by sitting up straight and keeping our eyes straight ahead. The way to teach this can get complicated. Each student will have different needs and corrections. A simple cue that I find very effective for this situation, is to imagine you are a puppet. Stay with me here. A strong puppet with a strong connected to the very top of the head. Now imagine if this string is pulled straight up, allowing the body underneath it lengthen and straighten up. It’s good for posture while standing, but I find it a quick and easy correction for sitting in the moment.
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The Weight Room
Now that we are sitting up straight and paying attention to the teacher, what did we do when we need to look down at our desk to do work? Let’s look into the weight room. Picture an athlete squatting. There is a hip hinge, feet are flat on the floor, thighs are parallel to ground, chest is upright, while torso is tilted forward. The eye angle will be angled downward as well, but due to the hinge at the hip, not flexion (forward bending) of the spine. Let’s sit in our chair this way. Push the hips back and bring chest forward. Maintain a “long and tall” spine while adjusting our eye angle to look down in front of us. It should almost feel more athletic. Utilizing the hip to sit forward here will help insure long term postural health for kids, which in turn will decrease the occurrence of back and neck pain later in life.
Adding to this problem is our current societal trend of using smart phones and tablets. We constantly bend over forward to use this marvel of technology. It would be better to hold it up at eye level so we can stay upright while using. Easier said then done. Hold the phone or tablet with both hands, keep elbows pointed to ground, slightly in front of you, and elevate to eye level. This may get tiring after just a few minutes, but either take a quick break or sit (as spoken about above) and rest elbows on table or desk. This should allow you to maintain proper posture while using a smartphone or tablet for a prolonged period. But on the flip side of that, don’t we all want to spend less time on our smart devices anyway?
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Instituting these simple fixes and reinforcing them at an early age and throughout childhood, will decrease postural related pain and discomfort for children as they grow up. Creating good habits now, can also lead to the same good habits as they get older and grow into full on adults.