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June 11, 2018

Stand Up Straight

Posture problems in teens can be incredibly aggravating for parents because society often associates poor posture with a poor attitude.

Why Good Posture Matters for Teens

Posture problems in teens can be incredibly aggravating for parents because society often associates poor posture with a poor attitude. In truth, rarely does a happy, confident person walk around with a hanging head or slouched shoulders. However, some physical and lifestyle factors also contribute to pain and misalignment that causes poor posture. Recognize them now and encourage young people to adjust their habits to prevent more problems as they grow into adulthood.

In my work with teen athletes, I can often literally “get to the bottom” of their pain by evaluating them for flat feet. When a growing foot does not develop with the proper amount of arch, over time the shin and thigh bones can twist inwards, and this can push the hips forwards and cause lower back pain. Flat feet can also cause ankle pain, knock-knees, and poor range of motion due to shifts in the ways legs are positioned. Licensed athletic trainers are skilled at taping feet to support an athlete during practice and competition. In addition, he or she should invest in a high-quality orthotic for athletic shoes or talk to a foot and ankle specialist.

Don’t just sit there. Academic pressures, test-taking, and online coursework, not to mention gaming and social media, can put young people in a sedentary and potentially unhealthy sitting position for the majority of their waking hours. In particular, the thoracic (upper half) of one’s spine becomes immobile as shoulders are hunched over a screen and lifted up toward the ears. Special thoracic mobility stretches will help lower those shoulders and engage the lat muscles in the back for healthier body mechanics. Hip flexors drive the manner in which we stand and walk. When they are not used enough due to long hours of sitting, they actually shorten, causing a pull on the hips and spine that results in painful misalignment in the lower back. Ask your friendly licensed athletic trainer to show you the proper way to do these stretches. And parents, they are great for adults who work at a desk all day, too.

Athleticism is always closely tied to confidence and self-esteem. I have a friend who married a very tall man. They talked about the fact that their young daughter would probably grow to over six feet tall. As a toddler, they began to instill in her pride in her height, telling her, “Our people are tall people.” She is now a senior in high school, just under six feet tall, loves cross-country running, chooses to wear (ridiculously) high heels, and holds her head high among boys and girls alike. If you have trouble getting your growing teen to stand tall, talk about what’s behind his or her slouch and offer a new perspective.

Take steps — literally — to improve posture. Excess weight and poor muscle tone will cause slouching and musculoskeletal pain. A regular habit of physical activity will help alleviate these stressors and familiarize a young person with his or her body, alleviate fatigue, and improve mood. Yoga is another great way to do this. The way we learn to tweak our posture is to get in tune with how our own body moves and responds. No one else can do this for us!

I’ve written about general causes of poor posture in young people. As parents, if you have serious concerns about curvature of the spine or a condition called sunken chest syndrome (primarily in males), please consult with your health care provider for a complete diagnosis. In the meantime, stand tall and breathe deeply. Summer is upon us!

Shari DeLisle, MS, LAT, is a licensed athletic trainer at ThedaCare Medical Center-Shawano and contracted to work with student athletes and their parents in the Clintonville Public School District and the Shawano School District.