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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Lim Sock Ling and Dr Jessica Gunawan on September 12, 2022

How To Support Your Child’s Musculoskeletal System

Children might be young and spry now, but slouching and bad posture can lead to back problems later in life. Here's how to best support your child's musculoskeletal system so they grow and develop properly.

Childs skeletal system min scaled

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have focused their attention on keeping their children’s immune systems healthy. However, your child’s doctor may argue that their musculoskeletal system is equally as important.

If you notice that your child has bad posture, it’s time to correct it now before it becomes a problem. Doing so helps ensure that your child grows and develops properly with no unnecessary aches and pains.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to identify bad posture and tips for correcting it to best support your child’s musculoskeletal system.

Should I Worry About My Child’s Musculoskeletal System?

Your child’s musculoskeletal system consists of bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. This part of their body will continue to grow and develop until they are 18, sometimes longer.

While it is common to assume that musculoskeletal system problems usually only affect older people, it is important to note that bad posture affects kids, too.

Bad posture during a child’s developing years can leave a profound impact on their musculoskeletal development. This makes it more difficult to reverse when they reach adulthood. 

A normal spine naturally adopts a slight curve on the upper back. However, when that curvature becomes excessive, it is noticeable as a hunch or kyphosis.

Why Musculoskeletal System Problems Develop

Carrying around a heavy backpack can lead to back problems in kids.

The development of bad posture is a result of various factors including injuries, muscular strength imbalances, and spending prolonged hours in the same position.

While your child’s body quickly adapts to little insufficiencies in their daily life, the compensatory postural adaptations will only lead to more health concerns later. 

It is also common for children to lug heavy bags filled with textbooks to school. As a result, they may develop bad posture due to the constant hefty load. One solution is to use school bags on wheels to avoid this. 

The compensatory theory in the development of poor postures resonates well with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles. TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling explains that bad posture could be due to Liver Qi Stagnation or a weak musculoskeletal system as a result of compromised Spleen, Liver, or Kidney systems.

The Spleen is responsible for digestion and the absorption of nutrients to foster strong muscles. Liver Qi promotes strong ligaments and tendons while the Kidneys are important for strong bones. A Deficiency in these systems makes room for poor posture development.

Signs Of Musculoskeletal System Problems In Kids

Common household furniture may not be designed with a child’s use in mind. Tables and chairs that are of unsuitable height may prompt children to make subconscious compensatory adjustments, leading to bad posture and musculoskeletal system problems.

Also, the ideal sitting posture for a child may not be the most comfortable one, especially over prolonged hours.

When sitting, your child’s shoulders should ideally be stacked along a straight spine, with their body weight firmly supported by the buttocks.

Both feet should be allowed to touch the ground, allowing the knees to be parallel with the hips and thighs parallel to the floor. Maintaining this ideal sitting posture may be uncomfortable over long hours, so children will inevitably slump.

These are some of the signs of bad posture to look out for:

Encourage your child to sit upright when they are watching electronics.

Slouching forward

Placing part of your body weight on a table naturally forces the shoulders to protract forward, causing the upper spine to adopt a greater curvature.

Slumping back

A child can adopt a “lazy” posture by shifting their buttocks forward and pressing the upper back firmly against the backrest.

This will cause much of the body weight to be placed on the curvature of the lumbar region of the spine. Besides worsening kyphosis, this bad posture is a cause of debilitating back pain.

Tips For Supporting Your Child’s Musculoskeletal System

While it is ideal to prevent bad posture before it becomes habitual, if your child appears to be developing a hunched back, there are still ways to reverse the damage. For mild postural kyphosis, here are some useful tips to help your child restore proper posture:

Invest in proper fitting furniture

Many height-adjustable chairs and tables are becoming more common too. These may be a good investment if you have a growing child as furniture height can be adjusted as they grow. If buying new furniture is not financially feasible, you can use props such as stools or footrests.

Take frequent breaks over prolonged sessions of sitting

For every 30 minutes of sitting, encourage your child to get up from their chair and take a break. A neat trick to play would be to keep your child well-hydrated. A few toilet runs may just be what they need to get out of their seat.

Switch positions

Remaining in the same position for too long can negatively impact musculoskeletal health.

Encourage your child to cycle through various postures such as standing, sitting, and lying belly-down to break the monotony and prevent certain muscle groups from tiring out. Note it may not be ideal to maintain some of these postures for long periods of time.

Exercise

A recent review study showed that exercise may be effective in reducing the severity of postural kyphosis. While researchers are still determining whether the strengthening or stretching aspect of exercise provides the greatest benefits, it doesn’t hurt to have your child play some sports and get fresh air in.

Maintain a healthy body weight

Carrying around extra weight takes a toll on muscles and tires them out more quickly. As a result, bad posture develops more readily. Make dietary changes the top priority while not forgoing exercise plans.

Get enough protein, calcium, and vitamin D

Bone density depends on proper calcium, protein, and vitamin D absorption from one’s diet. For this reason, many pediatricians recommend giving children milk and dairy products.

Yogurt is usually well tolerated by most children. It’s a good source of vitamin D, calcium, and protein. Additionally, yogurt contains probiotics, which have been shown to enhance calcium absorption in the body.

Your child can also obtain more vitamin D by taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.

In more pronounced cases of postural kyphosis, it is best to seek professional help. An orthopedist or chiropractic practitioner can identify the muscles that need to be strengthened after a careful assessment and prescribe the most effective exercises for your child. 

On the other hand, TCM recommends tuina and acupuncture as reliable alternatives. A qualified TCM practitioner can also identify the reasons behind bad posture and relax stiff muscles, clear out Qi Stagnation, and reduce pain and inflammation to restore proper posture. 

It’s easy to overlook bad posture, and it can be difficult to reverse the damage in adulthood. Taking early action is crucial in preventing this. Your children will thank you for it later in their lives!

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. 2020. Kyphosis
  2. González-Gálvez N., Gea-García GM., Marcos-Pardo PJ. PLoS ONE, 2019,  Effects of exercise programs on kyphosis and lordosis angle: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  3. Kratenová J, Zejglicová K, Malý M, Filipová V., J Sch Health. 2007. Prevalence and risk factors of poor posture in school children in the Czech Republic.  
  4. The Open Journal. 2018. Probiotics: A Promising Tool for Calcium Absorption.

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