One of the most common concerns parents speak to myself or the Occupational Therapists at Abingdon House School is about their child’s slouched sitting posture and how to help them sit up straighter. It’s also something the teaching staff here notice and bring to our attention.
Slouching in itself is not a specific term and often refers to sitting posture that appears slumped or curved, often with the shoulders rolling inwards. Some students slouch forwards so that their head and shoulders are further in front of their hips, often leaning against a table. However, some students slouch backwards with their head and shoulders further behind their hips, leaning back against the backs of their chair. Some students even slumped asymmetrically, showing a preference to lean to one side.
In all cases, however, the common denominator is that if you look at their back from a side view, you will see that their spine takes the shape of a ‘C’ curve and they appear to have ‘shrunk down’. They lack the expected ‘reverse S’ curve of the spine that is the most efficient and biomechanically advantageous alignment of the spine.
There are numerous reasons why a child sits in a slouched posture and these are the most common ones I come across:
Hypotonia (low tone)
Tightness of the hamstrings muscles (back of thigh muscles which attach to the pelvis)
Low arousal/alertness levels
Difficulty paying attention/boredom
Visual difficulties causing the child to lean forwards towards their laptop or worksheet so they can see the screen or their worksheet better
Chair height too low or too high
Table top too low
Computer monitor too low
To help encourage a more upright sitting posture, these are some first line strategies we use:
Adjusting the height of chairs so a child can sit with their hips and knees at 90 degrees with feet flat on the floor
Adjusting the position of computer monitors
Placing laptops on a sloping surface so the screen is higher
If these strategies don’t fully address the slouching, we will assess to see if the child has any of the other issues that could be affecting their ability to maintain a more upright sitting posture. Following on from identifying the underlying physical, visual and sensory problems that are most affecting the child, we address them with a combination of :
Core strengthening exercises
Hamstrings, upper back and shoulder stretches
Providing an air filled wobble cushion or Move N Sit wedge to sit on on top of their chair
Scheduling in regular movement breaks to help increase alertness levels and increase muscle tone in hypotonic children
Referring to opticians for visual assessments and corrective glasses
It is worth remembering that nobody can maintain an upright sitting position for long periods of time. Slouching is often a sign that the spinal and core muscles are getting tired and need a break- especially from our screens and electronic devices!
So when you see your child slouch, instead of telling them to stop slouching and sit up straight, encourage them to stand up and have a stretch or better yet, go for a short walk. They can also lie flat on their back or on their tummy for a few minutes to help their spine straighten out.
Here are 2 stretches that I love doing when I have been sitting for long periods of time and realise I am slouching forwards. All you need is a half inflated Pilates ball placed between your shoulder blades:
Ms Nasir, Physiotherapist