I bet I’m not alone on this one.
Raise the metaphorical hand if, when you were growing up, your parent or grandparent poked a finger in your back, admonishing to stand taller and straighter.
Both my late mother A”H and grandmother A”H did it to me. More than once.
Good posture means being aware of always holding yourself in a way that puts the least strain on your back or whatever you are doing. Sitting and standing in alignment with proper postural alignment will allow one to work more efficiently and with less fatigue on the body’s ligaments and muscles. Being aware of good posture is the first step to breaking old poor postural habits and reducing the stress and strain on the spine.
Why are our spines important?
The spinal cord provides a vital link between the brain and the rest of the body. It is also an essential part of the central nervous system. In reality, your spine is the backbone of every move that your body makes as well as the ability to sleep and function properly. Because every move emanates from it, including walking, bending to pick up objects, putting on socks, and twisting your neck, you should take care of your upper (cervical) and lower (lumbar) spine, regardless of whether you are a lawyer, Rebbe, therapist, businessperson or a weekend jock.
Posture is the position in which you hold your body upright against gravity while standing, sitting, or lying down.
Proper posture keeps bones and joints in correct alignment so that muscles are used properly. It helps to decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces that could result in the painful condition known as arthritis. It can decrease the stress on ligaments holding the joints of the spine together.
Proper posture is also preventative. It prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions. It can thwart muscle fatigue by using muscles more efficiently which can mean less energy is expended. This includes backache and muscular pain and strain.
Further, when you have proper posture, in addition to helping your back and muscles, you are preventing your organs from being squashed. A constant slump smashes your organs together, which can strain your lungs and intestines. Over time, you may find it harder to breathe or to digest food. Abnormal bone growth, which is difficult to correct, may also result from poor posture.
Regarding toddlers and posture, the variations with foot and leg posture are normal. You may notice flat feet at this age. Most children develop the arch in the foot by ages 5-6 years. Knocked knees are also normal. While most cases are resolved around 7 years of age, it’s important that you and the pediatrician monitor it, especially if knocked knees are combined with flat feet.
Is your baby “W” sitting? This is a common position in older babies and toddlers who are learning how to move in and out of a sitting position. It is also the preferred sitting position for children with developmental delays since they have tight muscles around their knees and hips as well as low muscle tone and weak trunk muscles. W-sitting offers a broader base of support that makes a child feel more stable while sitting and playing.
While this sounds good, it should be allowed to happen only minimally because done for longer periods of time over time, there can be negative effects. How?
A child’s hips rotate inwards while in the W-sitting position and this can be carried over to a standing position. Kids are much more flexible than adults and, as a result, their thighs, when standing, can be internally rotated and toes are turned in. They cannot get out of the W-sitting position.
Further, W-sitting does not encourage trunk rotation. This means that children cannot turn easily from side-to-side. The result: These children are not building up stomach and back muscles. They lack learning in how to shift their weight and practice at crossing the midline of their body. W-sitting makes children sedentary so they are limited in what they can do.
An antidote to W-sitting is to encourage kneeling or sitting with legs crossed, with the legs forming a circle.
Another culprit at this stage can be the wrong car seats, strollers and faulty beds. Babies can learn to sit up by planting their weight on their sacrum, a part of the pelvis, at the correct angle in order to support the spine.
At your children’s annual well visits, make sure your pediatrician checks the spines for scoliosis and kyphosis.
Today, pediatricians are seeing diabetes and heart disease, diseases that in previous generations were associated with “older people.” Unfortunately, we are seeing early signs of aging in the structural body as well. David Varnes, a children’s Judo instructor, describes the “F-Shoulder Plague.” When you look at a child from the side, you will notice that starting at about the mid back, the body takes a curve forward, ending in a head that is held a few inches from the collarbone. Some people call it “text neck.” An improper arching of the lower back region which can lead, in turn, to foot imbalances, i.e., pigeon-toed.
I couldn’t help but think about our boys and their long hours in shiur. Couple this with way too many hours spent hunched over cell phones, iPads and other media. The increased chances of joint pain, especially in the shoulder, neck and lower back, is scary.
Our children – boys and girls alike – are sitting way too long in school without breaks. Rebbes and Morahs – How about 50 jumping jacks mid-morning as well as afternoon? Or start class with 20 push ups. By the way, that’s each and every class. It’s healthy for kids and teens. Rebbes and teachers would probably see more students engaged with the learning.
Let’s be honest. Kids are going to continue watching their phones and iPads. So give them a stability ball to sit on while playing games. Encourage them to pick up their phones once in a while and look up at them, rather than down. Make sure your children’s desks, chairs and computers are appropriately sized. Keep the knapsack to no more than 10% of the child’s weight.
Putting in the effort for good posture pays lifelong dividends. Here go some pointers.
Encourage martial arts and/or dance.
Role model for your children proper sitting at a desk: Sit all the way back in your chair. Place a small, rolled-up towel or lumbar cushion behind your mid-back to protect your spine’s natural curve. Bend your knees at a right angle and keep them the same height or a bit higher than your hips. Place your feet flat on the floor.
Ladies – Save the stiletto heels for a big night out or a Simcha. Sky-high shoes put weight on knees.
Everyone – Abs, abs and abs. Make sure your workout regimen gives attention here. Firm abs support the spine. This is called “core strength.” Core muscles and flexibility are important for aging well. Elderly people tend to shuffle when they walk and not lift their feet. As a result, there is an increased incidence of tripping and falling with resultant hip fractures. Learn to lift your feet while walking. Stretch your hamstrings daily. Not sure what to do? A session or two with a physical therapist would be a wise investment.
Post a note on your computer screen to remind you to get yourself in proper alignment.
Spend a lot of time sitting at work? Take advantage of contemporary ergonomics and invest in a good chair. Your back and health will thank you.
Just by looking great from proper posture, you will posture to others what good posture is all about.
As always, daven.
Dr. Hylton I. Lightman is a senior statesman among pediatricians, an internationally-recognized authority and diagnostician, a public speaker, expert witness and go-to resource for health issues in the Orthodox Jewish community and beyond. Originally from South Africa, he started his current practice, Total Family Care of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, PC in 1987. Dr. Lightman is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP). Dr. Lightman is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. In addition, he is actively involved in teaching pediatric and family nurse practitioners through Columbia University, Pace University, Lehmann College, and Molloy College, as well as mentoring physician assistants through Touro College. Read more here.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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