If your child plays with a tablet or a phone, think about putting it away. A 14-year-old girl in Colorado in the United States was recently diagnosed with ‘text neck’, a condition she developed after spending too much time on her mobile phone.
This is not the only kind of spine-related problem that a child can develop. According to Dr Elaine Faverey, Resident Chiropractor at Natural Healings at Novena Specialist Center, up to 1.4% of girls aged 11-12 years old and 2.2% aged 13-14 years old have adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. These conditions can develop as early as infancy (younger than three years old).
This is the most common spinal problem in children. It is far more prevalent among girls than in boys, with an approximate ratio of 7:1.
Children with spinal conditions can be treated with chiropractic care. Dr Faverey has treated a four-year-old girl who had problems walking in a straight line and who could not lift and balance on her left foot. After six adjustment sessions, she was able to walk better, and better able to lift and balance her left foot. Another patient, a 10-year-old boy, had gastric attacks, sinus problems and recurring headaches. After four adjustment sessions, the child’s problems were completely resolved.
Common Childhood Spinal Problems
The most common spinal problems children have are scoliosis (an S-shaped curve in the back with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis being the most common form), kyphosis (excessive hunching of the upper back), and spondylolysis (a defect in the vertebra). In Singapore, the most common spine condition amongst children is scoliosis.
These are signs of scoliosis:
• An “S” shaped curve in the back when standing
• Curving of the body to one side when viewed from the front or back
• One shoulder appearing higher than the other
• A tilt in the waistline
• In females, one breast may appear higher than the other
For kyphosis the visual signs are:
• Excessive rounding or hunching of the upper back from a side view
• Excessive shifting of the head in a forward position from a side view
Spondylolysis is usually found when an X-Ray is taken.
What leads to these problems?
Heavy school bags, long periods of time spent looking down at digital devices, playing video games, slips and falls, and high-intensity physical activity are contributing to an increase in the number of kyphosis cases. Falls, accidents, and injuries can also lead to “wear and tear” of the spine.
Long-term use of incorrect stance or posture when lifting and carrying heavy objects or performing strenuous physical activities can also cause problems. Remember to bend from the knees — not from the waist — when picking something off the ground!
Bad posture is a common factor. Good posture allows our body weight to be evenly distributed when we walk, stand, sit or engage in various activities. Conversely, poor posture such as slouching or hunching and straining our necks and backs at awkward and unnatural angles causes the spine to contort itself unnaturally.
This places undue pressure on nerves and muscles, giving rise to aches and pains. Over time, our spines can get “acclimatised” and perpetually “locked” into these unnatural positions, leading to long-term chronic health conditions.
Treatment for Spinal Problems in Children
The most common approach for spinal problems in children is the “wait and see approach”. This means that the problem has been diagnosed, but is not severe enough to warrant immediate action. It is observed until the condition shows signs of worsening.
Swimming is often recommended. This is a great non-weight bearing exercise for fitness, but it will not correct structural alignment problems.
In more severe cases, surgery may be recommended. However, this is not a common solution for children.
Chiropractic is a great option for spine related problems in children because it is a natural, drug, and surgery free. Chiropractic care focuses on locating and correcting misalignments of the spine.
Chiropractic care for Children
Chiropractic helps restore the body’s natural ability to heal and function at an optimal level. It is beneficial for children because it corrects spinal problems and improves the functioning of the body and nervous system. This optimises the growth and development period in children.
Chiropractic can also be beneficial for new-borns especially those who were birthed with the help of forceps, vacuum extraction, or Caesarean section. These procedures can injure the proper alignment of the spine and functioning of the nervous system, setting the child up for health problems.
As a child learns how to walk, falls can add to an accumulation of stress on the spine and nervous system. This continues in school-going children carrying heavy book bags, participating in sports, and so on.
Children who participate in high-intensity or high-impact sports tend to be more susceptible to developing musculoskeletal problems too. With contact sports, there is resultant stress caused to the spine and potential physical impact to the spine. Of course, there is the possibility of slips and falls while playing the sport.
Sports that tend to use one-side of the body more, such as tennis and golf, can also cause the athlete to develop distortion patterns over time due to the constant favoring of one side of the body. Sports that can contribute to musculoskeletal problems include golf, hockey, bowling, badminton, martial arts, ggymnastics, and soccer.
Chiropractors support a “non-drugs and non-surgery” approach so drugs and medication are not prescribed. However, they may recommend supplements to strengthen and improve joint and muscles health.
Here’s what you can do as a parent to help your child maintain optimal spinal health:
• Monitor and limit the time your child spends seated. Encourage your child to get up and move around every 30 minutes.
• Monitor and if necessary, reduce the amount of time your child spends looking down at tablets or phones. That starts to lock the spine in a flexed, forward-hunching position.
• Monitor the weight of your child’s school bags. It might be a good idea to reduce the heaviness of children’s bags or switch to a school bag that can be rolled on wheels instead of being carried on the back.
• Educate your child on the importance of a healthy spine and nervous system, similar to the education children receive regarding dental hygiene.
• Be aware of the effects that can occur if your child participates in high-intensity/high-impact sports, such as gymnastics, martial arts, football, etc.
• Include Omega 3 fatty acid as a supplement in your child’s diet.
• Introduce simple stretching exercises that your child can do on his/her own.