by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen
Kids can be tough on their young nervous systems. With intense athletic activities and poor posture habits throwing developing spines off balance, chiropractic visits are quickly becoming a part of some children’s regular check-up routine.
Whole body health
The philosophy of chiropractic medicine is to live a healthy balanced life while realizing full potential. A chiropractor knows a healthy nervous system is the key to whole body health. Many factors can keep a body’s nervous system from working efficiently. Adults feel the effects of stress: pain, indigestion, a compromised immune system, inability to focus and process information, restlessness and insomnia. Children are not immune from experiencing those same effects. Pressures in school or on the athletic field add mental stress. Artificial and chemical additives found in many of the foods that kids eat add stress to the nervous system. According to the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, heavy backpacks are a leading cause of back pain among students.
The brain and the nervous system
Nerves carry feedback to the brain to keep it informed of what the body is doing and how it is feeling. They let the brain know how respiration, digestion and circulation are functioning. They alert the brain to a loss of balance or coordination, if the body’s temperature is not regulated, or if the immune system is not working to capacity. Damage to the spine may shift the vertebrae out of alignment leading to pinched nerves, sprained tendons, muscle spasms, postural distortions and even difficulty with breathing. When the spine and nervous system are off-kilter, it affects the entire body. Think of the human body as a car, and the spine and nervous system as the frame of that car. If the frame is out of alignment or in disrepair, then the car gets poor gas mileage, the steering is compromised and the tires will wear out sooner. Likewise, when the “frame” of the human body is out of alignment, the rest of the body suffers.
Keeping bodies healthy: the chiropractic exam
A chiropractor’s goal is to ensure the nervous system is working properly so that every system in the body is functioning as it was designed. A pediatric chiropractor may begin by asking questions about the child’s medical history. Were there problems with the birthing process? Has the child had any bad falls? Depending on a child’s activities and accidents, damage to the spine can add up over time and cause misalignment. The physical portion of the exam may involve an evaluation of posture. Is the child’s head centered? Are the shoulders and hips level? Are the knees and feet pointing straight ahead? The back and neck range of motion are checked for restrictions. To check for imbalances, muscle spasms or swelling, the doctor might gently palpate the spinal bones and muscles. The actual adjustment is a tiny and delicate push, often done with the pinkie finger, on the vertebrae that may be misaligned. Some chiropractors are more conservative than others, so x-rays will not always be taken as a matter of course. An effective chiropractor will teach the child and parents about the developing spine and nervous system.
Kids, chiropractors and the classroom
For the brain to work optimally, the spine should be in the best alignment possible. The spine protects the nervous system, which is why there is vertebra covering the spinal cord. For many kids, there are many factors that throw the spine off balance. Sports, academic pressure, poor diet, lack of exercise and poor posture can all lead to a spine and nervous system that is overloaded. It’s as if the body is an overloaded circuit – too many appliances plugged in at once – and the power blows. For kids to have maximum performance in the classroom, the spine and nervous system need to be in balance with the rest of the body. This balance tends to make students more functional in the classroom.
A team approach
Medical practitioners can be so specialized that many times there is not a whole-body approach to health care. Developing spines and nervous systems are especially susceptible to damage and stress which can make a chiropractor a great addition to a child’s healthcare team. Pediatric chiropractors are trained to take all aspects of the child’s health into consideration when making their evaluation. By focusing on the spine and nervous system, the end result is balance for the whole body.