Childhood Posture and the Link to Learning

Poor posture is one of the most common reasons parents bring school aged children in to see our team. With the growing use of technology in school and at home – our children’s spines are under constant stress.So how do we address this growing problem? Technology use is only one part of the puzzle. We need to go all the way back to the beginning of life when spinal curves are developing in order to truly address the problem.

Our posture is greatly impacted by our spinal curves which begin in utero and further develop by functional movements like rolling, sitting, crawling and walking. Missing a step or deviating away from the normal blueprint of functional movement, for example a baby who doesn’t crawl and goes straight to walking – greatly effects muscle development and tone. This alters the muscle firing pattern and ultimately changes the spinal curves. The use of bumbo’s, seating aids, jolly jumpers, walkers etc also negatively affect the muscle tone development of babies. It is important to nurture early spinal curve development. My general advice for parents is – if a baby cannot sit or walk by themselves – the muscles are not yet ready to support the spine in that position!

What else impacts posture and spinal curves?

Environment – school bags, sitting for long periods at school / studying, technology use (i-posture), minimal activity, poorly supportive bed/pillow, poor shoe wear

Early indicators of poor curve development and spinal health can be seen as follows;

Missing milestones
Low muscle tone
Poor co-ordination
Poor balance
Pigeon toes, knock knees, hyperextension of joints, w-sitting
Back pain, growing pains, headaches.

A great assessment to do at home to assess your own child is a postural assessment. This simple tool may detect problems in the making! By looking at the levels of the ears, shoulder, hips and knees – it provides an early screen for postural assessment and overall function. If you find asymmetries, it would be a good idea to seek a professional assessment with a paediatric Chiropractor.

One of the most common questions I get in practice is how does my child’s posture, muscles and joints affect learning?

To break it down simply – poor musculoskeletal function and muscle tone leads to postural imbalances (eg slouching). This leads to asymmetric muscle firing patterns which leads to asymmetrical input into the brain! So when a child is sitting in the class room slouched – the brain is receiving poor input from the stabilising muscles.We cant talk about posture and learning without mentioning primitive reflexes – which are part of our ‘blueprint’ of development. We are all born with a range of reflexes that allow us to feed, swallow and survive. These reflexes should integrate (disappear) at specific points of development. If these reflexes are retained – a child’s function is impacted. This can present as developmental delay, sensory processing issues, poor concentration or slow learning.

In a study of 35 children aged 4-6 year – 65% had a retained primitive reflex.

The triangle diagram illustrates the different stages of development. Progression through the triangle requires correct integration of reflexes. If the foundation is unstable – problems starts to show up in school with learning ability.

For example: Asymetric tonic neck reflex (ATNR)

Should integrate (disappear by 6 months old). Integration occurs from rolling and extension of the neck. This is delayed from using seating aids, baby carriers, not enough tummy time etc..) children with retained ATNR at school have difficulty with crossing the midline, poor writing skills, poor balance and co-ordination.

So how can we help our child’s posture and skeletal development?

  • Nurture skeletal movement from a very early age!
  • Do a postural analysis of your child
  • Limit screen time to 20 minute intervals – have a stretch break (link to stretch break)
  • A good bed and pillow is essential
  • Shoes off time! Flexible shoes (vivo barefoots)
  • School bag 10% of child’s weight
  • Choose activities that improve balance & co-ordination (eg: Ready Steady Go Kids, ballet, gymnastics, swimming – backstroke & rowing motions help balance out the forward posture we all have today.
  • Have your child assessed by a paediatric therapist – Chiropractor, Physiotherapist or Osteopath.