By Pete Egoscue
Too many of our pre-teens today are physically compromised. The most obvious manifestation is down at the feet. Watch any 10-, 11- or 12-year-old walk, and you'll notice that most of them do so with their feet pointing out. You don't even have to watch them walk. If a junior high student is standing still, chances are his or her feet are pointing out. We call that everted feet. I've already written about that subject here, but now I want to address how it happens to children at such a young age and what you can do about it.
From the moment we're born, movement is integral to our development. Crawling, walking, running, climbing -- all these activities and many more are key to the growth of our muscles, our bones, our internal organs, everything. The more naturally our movement is allowed to develop, the more likely we will avoid physical compromises. Take, for instance, crawling.
Crawling isn't just something we do in order to cope until we can walk. Crawling is something we do in order to develop the body we need to walk properly. Babies are born with flat feet, and crawling is instrumental to developing arches. With those arches, we are able to walk with a proper foot-striking action of heel, balls of feet, toes. Without those arches, we end up walking in a compromised manner that leads to future dysfunction and pain. Anyone with planter fasciitis will tell you just how much life without proper arches hurts.
But it's not just about the arches. In general, we are too eager to get our kids walking. Many believe that walking is a sign of progress, a sign of intelligence, a sign of advancement in their children. It's simply not true, but since so many parents believe it is, they encourage walking prematurely in many ways, not least of which is buying their children shoes with hard soles to give them support. But in so doing, they've interrupted the metabolic processes of growth.
Walking requires many motor skills, chief among them balance and a proper heel, ball, toe foot strike, which is possible with arches. When parents put hard-soled shoes on their children too soon, they render the proper foot strike unnecessary; kids now have a platform with which to push off, and further development of the arches is impossible. In addition, since proper foot striking is no longer necessary to walk, balance becomes the main issue a toddler must confront. How best to keep balance on shaky legs? Turn those feet out. Thus, those hard soles pave the way for our children to learn how to walk with their feet pointed out, and by the time they're 10 or 11, those feet have been pointing out for a long time. Which has subsequently taught the knees to respond in a compromised fashion, subsequently leading the hips to respond with their own compromise.
So what can we do? Well, a few things.
First, get your youngsters crawling again. Seriously. Whether they're seven and eight or 11 and 12, get their shoes off and get them back down on the ground. It will probably be easier with the younger ones because you can trick them into getting down with some games that involve crawling, bear crawling, whatever. The constant act of getting up and down will also help, and you can certainly devise ways to get your kids to do that. The older kids might be a little tougher although getting kids to frolic like kids again is a good thing and might be easier than you think. You might take the honest approach, too, by showing them how their feet are everted and telling them that bear crawls and crawling can help correct it.
Another great way to remedy physical compromise is simply get children doing whatever they're not doing. If they don't usually climb a tree, get them to climb a tree. (In fact, anything off the ground is good -- monkey bars, jungle gyms, whatever. It engages a range of muscles often under-utilized on the ground.) If they play a lot of baseball, take them swimming. In general, too much of any one thing is bad for the development of our children. Every professional athlete I have known, as well as every high-level coach and trainer, agrees that specializing in one sport at a young age is a foolish mistake.
But it's not just sports. Years ago, I had some parents call me because their 11-year-old son suffered terrible headaches. The child was a piano prodigy, so when I visited him, I naturally joined him on the piano bench. He showed me how, when he had to reach with his left hand, he couldn't play as effectively. I wasn't schooled in music enough to hear any difference, but I could see a difference in his body when he struck the keys in front of him compared to when he struck the keys to his distant left. I told him to get up and follow me outside. His father was an avid softball player, so I had the son play softball with me. I had him hit while I pitched; I had him throw me the ball with his right hand then throw with his left. In other words, I got him to engage a bunch of new muscles. When we returned to his piano bench 45 minutes later, he was amazed to see that when he had to reach left to play, there was no difficulty.
That's the amazing thing about the body. It is always ready, even eager, to return to an uncompromised posture, and the younger the body and therefore less entrenched the development, the quicker and easier it will respond to corrective measures. But the sooner you tend to your children, the better. For compromised posture untreated only gets compounded with time, and that has led to the epidemic in today's teens of surgeries, headaches, and an untold number of premature physical maladies.
No, parents, those teenagers' shoulders aren't hunched because of texting. But I'll address that in a separate article.
Known as the Father of Postural Therapy, Pete Egoscue has helped relieve thousands of people from their chronic pain, including many of the world's leading athletes. For more information on Pete and any of his 25 clinics worldwide, go to egoscue.com.
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