Back to School, Back to Better Posture

By Tara Winters- physical therapist and BASI Pilates teacher

Let’s talk about posture. And by posture, I don’t mean the outdated notion of standing up straight, with your shoulders back and your chin down. I am talking about the way we carry ourselves as we move through our everyday activities.

Poor posture is prevalent within our society, especially among adolescents. Since adolescence is a vital time for bone and muscle development, it is important to understand the impact that posture has on our body. Cell phone and computer usage are becoming quite ubiquitous, and we seem to be spending more time hunched forward. This puts undue stress on the joints and nervous system, contributing to muscle imbalances and other possible issues down the road (arthritis, anyone?). 7,8 These static sitting postures build habits which can also translate into movements performed throughout the day, from picking something up off of the floor to throwing a baseball. Not to mention the fact that young adults also spend many hours of the day sitting at a desk and lugging around backpacks full of textbooks. Adding any load to abnormal posture stresses the system even more...and here we go again!

It’s not all bad, though. Posture is a result of habit, and habit can be changed. As we head back into the school year, it is worth our time to explore small changes we can make to improve posture and adapt to our current environment.

Backpacks matter:

One study found that backpacks positioned in the middle of the back, with shorter straps, rather than lower on the back produced better standing posture.2 Be sure to observe your child’s standing posture when wearing his or her backpack to ensure they are not leaning forward or backward. Wearing both straps, rather than one, will distribute forces more evenly along the spine. And finally, check with the school to assess how reasonable it is for students to leave books at school. This way, they won’t have to carry more than necessary to and from school. Many studies show that carrying a backpack greater than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight can have significant effects on walking, going up and down stairs, and overall load on the body.1,2,5


Children sit for 45-60 minutes per class, and they may have 6-7 classes per day (hopefully, one of these is physical education). Although it’s hard to influence adolescent sitting posture in class, we can ingrain good postural habits at home. So, let’s focus on a work station that you can control- the desk or area that your child does homework at. Ensuring that the desk is ergonomically sound can do wonders for your child during long study hours. This can also include purchasing a book stand or holding your phone at eye level, rather than in your lap, to keep the neck in a more neutral position.

Get some sleep:

Fatigue from lack of sleep, or lack of quality sleep, can manifest in our daily postures and movement.3,4 Ensuring that your teen gets some quality shut eye by turning off devices (laptop, cell phone) an hour or two before bedtime can help the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.3,4 Blackout curtains or an eye mask can also be beneficial in keeping any artificial light out of the room.

Get moving:

In the end, it all comes down to movement. Changing positions frequently can help us avoid sustained pressures and stresses on our body. Enrolling in sports, taking your daughter to a yoga or pilates class with you, or walking by the beach (summer isn’t over yet!) are all great options for increasing frequency of movement throughout your child’s day. They are also great bonding opportunities.

Making small changes throughout the day makes improving posture manageable. It also sets our body up to move in the most efficient way, leading to less energy expenditure and less risk for injury. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Finally, if you have deeper concerns about your child’s posture, consider setting up a physical therapy appointment here at The Cypress Center. Cypress therapists are experts in movement analysis, postural syndromes, and injury prevention. They can provide you with further insight on posture and implement an individualized exercise plan to fit your needs.


1.    Song Q, Yu B, Zhang C, Sun W, Mao D. Effects of Backpack Weight on Posture, Gait Patterns and Ground Reaction Forces of Male Children with Obesity during Stair Descent. Research In Sports Medicine[serial online]. April 2014;22(2):172-184.

2.    ABDELRAOUF O, HAMADA H, SELIM A, SHENDY W, ZAKARIA H. Effect of backpack shoulder straps length on cervical posture and upper trapezius pressure pain threshold. Journal Of Physical Therapy Science [serial online]. September 2016;28(9):2437-2440.

3. Kayaba M, Iwayama K, Tokuyama K, et al. The effect of nocturnal blue light exposure from light-emitting diodes on wakefulness and energy metabolism the following morning. Environmental Health & Preventive Medicine [serial online]. September 2014;19(5):354-361.

4. Tosini G, Ferguson I, Tsubota K. Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Molecular Vision. 2016;22:61-72.

5. Minghelli B, Oliveira R, Nunes C. Postural habits and weight of backpacks of Portuguese adolescents: Are they associated with scoliosis and low back pain?. Work [serial online]. May 2016;54(1):197-208.

6. Ingraham P. Posture Correction: Does it matter? Accessed August 23, 2017.

7. Norris C. Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Practical Treatment Approach. Co-Kinetic Journal [serial online]. April 2017;(72):14-21.

8. Levinger P, Menz H, Fotoohabadi M, Feller J, Bartlett J, Bergman N. Foot posture in people with medial compartment knee osteoarthritis. Journal Of Foot And Ankle Research [serial online]. 2010;Available from: Academic OneFile, Ipswich, MA.