Promoting Health in Children

posted in: General Physiotherapy | 0

Bringing up children in today’s modern world requires a different approach to previous generations. The world around us is changing and so is our lifestyle. Life is more rushed and competitive, whilst play is more sedentary than ever before. Being less active and staying too long in one position has a profound negative impact on our health. It is really important to take the advantage of the young body’s natural need to move, and to introduce various activities that allow your children to change posture and play, to enjoy and benefit from physical activity every day. Creating positive behaviour patterns from an early age will help your children to prepare for future life challenges and allow them to stay healthy.

The importance of Posture

What is good posture?

Good posture is when our body maintains a balance with a minimal effort. Our body was shaped by thousands of years of evolution and the way we look and move is determined by a natural adaptation process to Earth gravitational forces. It is important to move and change body position constantly in order to keep all the organs and systems forming our body functioning properly. Physiotherapists will assess posture along with movements to discover if there are any health issues or abnormalities even before any health issues or other symptoms like discomfort or pain start to develop.

At home you can dedicate some time to observe how you and your children behave, move and what positions they, and you, spend the most time in throughout the day. You are looking for signs of poor posture that may be a potential problem, specifically:

  • An imbalance or asymmetry between the left and right side of the body
  • A forward head position in relation to upper body
  • A hunched upper back
  • A winging or sticking out of the shoulder blades
  • An arched lower back or sticking out belly
  • Inward knee and ankle position
  • In-toeing or pigeon walking
  • An inability from standing to touch your feet without bending the knees, squatting or lifting the heels off the floor 

When looking at postural patterns you should note that it only becomes a problem if these issues persist beyond the expected age range which is typically 7 years old, if they are getting worse, if there is pain or if it is affecting everyday life. Physiotherapists will very often be able to successfully give specific advice on posture and gait (walking), and to give a muscle strengthening and stretching programme that will aim to restore the bodies natural balance preventing something that might just be a bad habit from turning into an illness.  

What you can do at home to promote good posture:

  • Allow your children to walk, run and climb in bare feet in a safe way. This will enable better foot development and helps maintain proper shock absorbing and braking function crucial for walking and running.
  • Encourage your child to walk on grass, sand and pebble stones to keep foot muscles working and the joints moving properly.
  • Have fun at home with competitions to pick up marbles, Lego blocks or other small objects using only your feet! 
  • Make sure that your children don’t choose a ‘W’ sitting position when playing on the floor. This happens due to a lack of core strength and pelvic instability. Prolonged time in this position can lead to hip and knee problems, muscle stiffness and joint pain.
  • Encourage your children to sit with “feet in front” or in “ring sitting”. These are healthier postures and whilst it may take a while to get used to this new posture after a few weeks it will begin to feel comfortable and easy.
  • Encourage children to play on the floor in a deep squat position.
  • Encourage children to draw or read when lying on their front.
  • Ensure that your children change their position frequently throughout the day.
  • Keep screen time to a minimum. Stationary positions in front of the TV or hunching over a tablet or phone for many hours will make muscles weaker and stiffer as well as overloading the joints leading to pain and health problems.
  • Implement a healthy diet avoiding heavily processed and high sugar foods. Overweight children are more likely to experience musculoskeletal discomfort, back or leg pain due to impaired mobility and repetitive overload of body tissues.

The importance of movement

It is recommended that all children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes per day. In reality many schools offer an average of 2 hours of PE or physical activity per week. We therefore need to do more at home to encourage children to be active every day.

Stretch and relaxation is a recognised underestimated side of physical development within PE, after school clubs and sport training sessions. Sports typically focus on building strength, speed and co-ordination but some studies have suggested that competitive sports could also increase the risk of back pain later in life similarly to a sedentary life style. So, it is important to introduce stretches to improve flexibility into your child’s routine:    

  • If your child takes part in a specific sport such as hockey, swimming or gymnastics they should spend 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the session to stretch the most important muscle groups. 
  • Incorporate flexibility games and exercises into your weekly routine.
  • Incorporate relaxation such as yoga or mindfulness into your weekly routine.

Avoiding addiction and sedentary postures

We recognise that until the advent of screen activities, school-age children organised lively games of their own from hopscotch, marbles, conkers and skipping in the street, to cops and robbers in the playground or hide-and-seek, tree-climbing and den-building in the woods. Over the past decades the surge in television and electronic games means that virtual play is removing youngsters from real play; many children are being moulded into an unnaturally sedentary lifestyle and becoming dependent on technological gimmicks with boredom and obesity becoming more common problems. Try to follow the advice from the National Institute for Health Care Excellence that states that children over 2 years should have TV free days, or have 2-hour limits on the time spent in front of screens. Children under 2 should have no screen time.

We understand that stretching can be difficult but when arranged with games it can be great fun for the whole family.