Sitting Up Straight: The Importance and Impact of Postural Stability

Whether sitting at a desk at school, eating at the dinner table, or simply playing with toys on the floor, seated activities are an integral part of your child’s life. While we may not think of sitting as a complex task, it provides your child with a stable base to develop essential fine motor, visual-motor, and self-care skills. If you notice your child slouching frequently, propping his or her body against a desk or table, or fatiguing easily during seated activities, your child may be struggling with postural stability.

What is Postural Stability?

Postural stability refers to your child’s ability to achieve and maintain an upright and unsupported sitting posture against gravity. While seemingly simple, unsupported and stable sitting is dependent on a variety of factors, including muscle strength and tone, joint range of motion, the alignment of the body against gravity, and the support your child’s body receives from contact with surface they are sitting on. Core and trunk strength are essential for postural stability. If your child has a weaker core, you may notice slouching, propping of his or her head in the hands, heavy leaning against the back of a chair or the top of the desk, or sliding/falling out of chairs.

Why Does Postural Stability Matter?

While children are often on the move, a majority of their learning time takes place in a seated position. When children have to devote an excessive amount of energy to merely sitting up, the resulting fatigue can affect their ability to focus on classroom learning. Moreover, a strong and stable core allows your child to reach the arms away from his or her body in order to use the hands. Therefore, handwriting, scissor use, table-top crafts, self-feeding, and toileting tasks can all be negatively impacted by poor postural stability.

What Does Poor Postural Stability Look Like?

Some common signs of postural instability include:

  • Extreme or exaggerated slouching when sitting in a chair.
  • Leaning heavily or laying torso on the table or desk.
  • Frequently falling or sliding out of chairs.
  • Sitting in a “W” position.
  • Walking with a wide-legged stance.
  • Leaning against walls or holding onto rails for increased support.
  • Excessive fatigue following prolonged sitting (e.g. after school).

What Can I Do?

You can try to help improve your child’s postural stability through the following activities:

  • Knee walking: Try walking, playing catch, or playing “keep it up” with a balloon with your child standing on his or her needs. This helps to build the trunk muscles necessary for sitting balance.
  • Wheelbarrow walking: Encouraging your child to wheelbarrow walk helps him or her to engage their core and trunk, as well as build upper body strength. If provide support further from the core (e.g. holding the knees instead of the hips), your child will get a more intense core workout!
  • Animal walks or yoga poses: Encouraging your child to bear walk, crab walk, or perform other animal walks promotes core and trunk strengthening. Additionally, a variety of yoga poses (e.g. plank, boat, candlestick, etc.) promote overall strengthening which is great for postural stability!
  • Set your child up for success: Observe your child’s sitting environment. If your child’s feet are dangling in the air when sitting in chair, try providing a step stool or even a pile of books to rest his or her feet on. This will provide your child with a more stable base of support from the sitting surface.
  • Wedges or inflatable discs: There are a variety of tools available to help develop your child’s sitting posture. Sitting on a wedge or inflatable disc encourages your child to engage his or her core and prevents some slouching from occurring.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s postural stability, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference:

Case-Smith, J., & Clifford O’Brien, J. (2015). Occupational therapy for children and adolescents (7th ed.). Canada: Mosby, Inc.

Photo Credit:

Anissa Thompson via freeimages.com

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