With all the newest technologies and gadgets that are meant to entertain us and make our lives easier, here are a few things you might want to make sure your kid is doing everyday:
1) Let them RUN - When you run, you increase your stride length. That means you open your hips to a degree that is not done with walking. Tight hips are one of the top reasons adults have pain and poor posture. Don't let them sit at the TV or iPad (see #4) for hours and lose mobility that they will need to keep a healthy flexibility in their bodies as they grow up.
2) Go Barefoot - Running barefoot was a big craze for good reason. It builds strength in the intrinsic muscles in the feet. Having weak feet and ankles means back and knee pain in early adulthood and balance problems as you get old. The best time to build that strength is when you are a child, when you haven't developed any bad walking habits or foot abnormalities (e.g. fallen arch, turned out foot, etc.)
3) Backless chairs - This takes us back to another early craze, sitting on Swiss balls. Having backs on chairs further increased the damage excessive sitting does on the body. If you have something to lean back on, most likely you will depend on it. Most people that sit on chairs with backs tend to slump in them, causing kyphosis or curvature of the spine as well as weakened abdominals. Teach your kids to have good posture early (or limit the amount of prolonged sitting out of school altogether) and prevent poor posture.
4) Power down the iPad - There is a reason that some of the top CEOs in the country don't let their own children play with smart phones and iPads. While their is a big need to have our children become more tech savy than we were, this doesn't mean they can neglect some of the more fundamental skills that children need for healthy neuromuscular growth. Sports and play develop a child's gross motor skills and coordination. Get your kids outside and back to the basics to build a healthy neuromuscular system. They can learn technology in school.
5a) Get them checked out (Part 1)- Many orthopedic dysfunctions that cause us pain when we are adults start to develop when we are kids. Currently, the main things pediatricians check with your children are for congenital hip abnormalities (See Ortolani's Test)and a rib hump (See Adams Test) to check for spinal curvature or "scoliosis". If your child has a rib hump when bending over, chances are he or she already has advanced scoliosis and might need to wear a brace or even have surgery. Most of the time, children develop small postural abnormalities that these tests won't pick up. So basically, we are waiting for things to get really bad before we do something about it. All it takes is a simple exam (find a good orthopedic physical therapist that has experience with children) to detect some of these small asymmetries of the body and keep them from snow balling into bigger problems in adulthood.
5b) Get them checked out (Part 2) - If you child has ever had any injury that you noticed them limping or moving gingerly, don't just "let it heal". Many orthopedic dysfunctions I find in clinic with adults, stem from injuries that never fully "healed" with childhood and adolescent injuries. Most of the time, these injuries are written off because the pain goes away. What we do know is the body has an amazing capability of self preservation. If there is something wrong, your body will usually break out its arsenal of compensations to avoid having to feel pain. So while you might think the body is just healing itself, it is actually starting to form new and pathological movement patterns that only get more ingrained as time goes on.
Dr. Joshua Mazalian, DPT, OCS, CSCS is the owner of JAM Sports and Spine in Los Angeles and specializes in sports and orthopedic physical therapy. You can reach him on Twitter @jamsportsPT and Facebook as well as email at firstname.lastname@example.org.