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Straighten Up Now

Backpacks, computers pose risks for kids' posture

SATURDAY, May 5 (HealthScout) -- Whether lugging heavy backpacks or slouching over a computer keyboard, kids now face more challenges than ever to maintaining proper posture.

Yet experts say looking bad is the least of the drawbacks of poor posture.

Back pain -- possibly chronic -- and other muscular-skeletal problems are just a few of the ills that can result from bad posture. And with 80 percent of Americans experiencing some sort of back pain in their lives, it's essential that people pay attention to posture issues, according to the North American Spine Society.

To heighten people's awareness, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) has proclaimed May "Correct Posture Month."

"Correct posture is how people stand and walk properly," says James McAndrews, a chiropractor and spokesman for the ACA. "Without it, they're inviting problems."

Backpacks are a significant cause of poor posture, especially if carried on one shoulder only, says McAndrews.

"Hanging a backpack on the shoulder can absolutely cause or exacerbate preexisting musculo-skeletal problems. With backpacks, we recommend, first of all, that they are no more than about 5 to 10 percent of your body weight. And secondly, the weight should be evenly distributed on both straps," he says.

Dr. Volker K.H. Sonntag, president of the North American Spine Society, says good posture is a must -- not just while carrying a backpack, but at all times.

"I always tell my patients to keep three important things in mind for proper back health -- weight control, exercise and posture control. Keep your back straight when you stand, when you sleep, when you walk, and even when you sit in the car," says Sonntag, a neurosurgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix.

McAndrews adds that good posture while sleeping usually means having the right size of pillow.

"If you're lying on your side, ideally your spine should be in a straight line. If you have a bulky pillow, your spine would be in a line until the top of your rib cage, but then your head would be angled up and all night long you'd have stress on the joint and disk of your neck. The same would be true if you had too soft of a pillow. Your head would be angled down."

The American Chiropractic Association offers these additional tips for improving your kids' posture:

  • When lifting a baby, always support his or her back and neck with your hands, and use approved car seats that support an infant's head and neck.
  • When picking up older children, grasp their body under their arms.
  • Provide a firm bed for your child, but avoid the once-popular, very firm "table board" mattresses. The trend now is toward "selective support," meaning that it allows the child to press down on one area while leaving the other areas of the mattress unaffected.
  • Be sure your child's computer workstation is ergonomically correct for his or her size -- most stations are fitted for adults. Make sure the computer monitor is at or slightly below the child's eye level.
  • Make sure your child has enough calcium in his or her diet. Calcium in milk is essential for healthy bones and reduces the risk of joint and muscle-related injuries.

What To Do

Read more about back and spine health in these HealthScout stories.

Visit the North American Spine Society for more information on keeping things straight.

And the American Chiropractic Association offers useful tips on maintaining proper posture.

SOURCES: Interviews with Volker K.H. Sonntag, M.D., president, North American Spine Society, neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital, Phoenix, Az.; James McAndrews, D.C., spokesman, American Chiropractic Association (ACA), Arlington, Va.; ACA press release
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