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Childhood Falls - What is the Impact?
I recently watched a heart-warming TED talk in which the speaker Shawn Anchor recounts a personal childhood story. At the age of 7, entrusted to play “nicely” with his four-year-old sister (he suggests ‘combat’) she falls off the top bunk bed and plummets to the floor on all fours. As the shock sets in on her little face and the tears well up, young Shawn wracks his seven-year-old brain to save the day… “Amy, Amy wait don´t cry! Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy…. I think this means you are a unicorn”.
Childhood falls and the effect on our children´s health.
The story above is a reminder of just how commonly knocks and falls occur in childhood. Can you recall how many times your child has “fallen hard”, intentionally or unintentionally? I can’t but I know it happens time and time again, over and over.
In fact by the age of seven, a child will have fallen around 2500 times, and prior to turning three, they will have had three major falls out of a cot, off a change table, or down a flight of stairs (1). Of course the above story also says something of our children´s resilience, however as a practitioner and mother I am aware that this “bounce-back” resilience may hide subtle damage that leads to poor postural and neurological function across time.
The subtle signs and symptoms that can result from falls can go unnoticed by parents or be put down to other things, and if left unchecked, can lead to entrenched health problems. We need to keep in mind that each seemingly insignificant slip and fall our child has does add up, and that as the branch bends, so grows the tree…
Minor accidents can subluxate your child´s spine
The spine and skull generally take the brunt of knocks, bumps and falls in childhood. It has been estimated that in their first year of life, 47.9% of children will fall and land on their head (2). Researchers have found that birth to two years of age, is a critical period of brain development, and that any disruption from injury can have long-lasting or even permanent effects on the structure and function of the brain (3).
As you know, the spine and skull protect our children´s precious brain and nervous system (or their “communication highway” for thinking, feeling, and behaving). When a child´s body is suddenly jarred in an accident, muscles surrounding the spine protectively contract, including muscles that directly attach to the delicate nerve coverings themselves (4). This causes the spine to tension and misalign (subluxate) and negatively affects nervous system function (5). With a subluxated spine, our child´s communication highway is no longer working at 100%, altering the way they are able to think, feel and behave.(6)
When do childhood accidents and injuries most commonly occur?
Slips and falls are a common part of growing up and there are a number of especially common times that they may occur.
Strain during birth. Studies have shown that the birth process can lead to strain of upper neck muscles (suboccipitals) in newborns, subluxating the spine and effecting brain stem centres. Conversely, this strain may not show up as visible clinical symptoms (7). One study found that out of 1250 infants examined, 95 % had neck strain from the birth process (8).
Poor handling of newborns and babies can also create spine and nerve distress as can over zealous siblings tumbling on infants etc.
Playground falls. Researcher Colin Macarthur (9) lists a number of descriptive studies demonstrating that 60% to 80% of all medically-attended playground injuries are due to falls and that in the US alone, over 200,000 children are taken to hospital each year to have playground injuries assessed.
Other likely times that our children will become subluxated include learning to walk, run, or ride a bike, sporting activities or hobbies, and minor or major car accidents.
“My child always seems fine once they stop crying!”
After the initial impact of a fall or accident, we assume most children have recovered well when they no longer complain about pain or other symptoms, but this is not always the case. Often these problems remain undetected, only to compromise our child’s health over a period of months or years with seemingly unrelated issues such as growing pains, compromised immune strength or digestive issues for example. The impact of a fall may result in:
a) Undetected subluxations.
Even without obvious symptoms your child can still be subluxated. One study examined a group of apparently healthy children and found that 15.8% had cervical subluxations (neck problems) and 40% had pelvic subluxations (10).
b) Problems later in childhood.
It is more common than you´d think for children to experience headache and back pain for “no apparent reason”. In fact in any given year, up to 50% of children and adolescents will experience back pain and around a third experience recurrent episodes of this pain (11) Chiropractors can often trace back the triggering event to these types of small physical impacts.
c) Problems later in
Much later as adults we may experience a health crisis that seemed to “simply happen out of the blue”. A person may bend to tie a shoelace and be unable to straighten up, or they may wake up one morning “suddenly” unable to move their neck. Years and years of tiny physical injuries have accumulated to breaking point that is costly to heal in terms of money, time and energy.
The best time to invest in helping the body heal is straight away!
Our babies and children´s health is the most precious thing in the world so it makes sense to ensure their spine and nervous system is free from subluxation from the very beginning.
The Journal of Neuroscience states that whilst “the ﬁrst year of life may be a period of developmental vulnerability, it is also be the period in which therapeutic interventions can have the greatest positive effect.” (12)
Chiropractic for babies and children is evidenced to be gentle, safe and effective. (13) Babies can be checked by chiropractors very soon after birth and special techniques have been developed to carefully correct any subluxated areas. I am grateful that my four boys could be checked by my husband (a chiropractor) just moments after their birth.
Finding the right family chiropractor for you
Many chiropractors have a special focus on family health and working with babies and young children. Because so many people now benefit from regular chiropractic care, by talking to friends and acquaintance’s you are likely to find a great practitioner somewhere nearby. The important thing is to find a chiropractor that you personally feel a connection with, and who has a holistic perspective on strengthening the body and enhancing the vitality and wellbeing of your family.
Dr Jennifer Barham- Floreani
Copyright © Dr Jennifer Barham- Floreani, Copyright © welladjusted.me
Want to learn more about how to live a healthy lifestyle? For more health related information, please see Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition.
1, 2, Rosner AL. Infant and child chiropractic care: an assessment of research. Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research; 2003. http://www.chiro.org/pediatrics/FULL/Infant_and_Child_Chiropractic_Care.shtml
3, 12Knickmeyer RC, Gouttard S, Kang C, Evans D, Wilber K, Smith JK, Hamer RM, Lin W, Gerig G, Gilmore JH. A structural MRI study of human brain development from birth to 2 years. The Journal of Neuroscience 2008; 28(47):12176-12182.
4, McPartland JM, Brodeur RR. Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor: A Small But Important Suboccipital Muscle. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 1999; 3(1): 30-35.
5, 6 Chestnut JL. The 14 Foundational Premises for the Scientific and Philosophical Validation of the Chiropractic Wellness Paradigm. The Wellness Practice. Chestnut Wellness and Chiropractic Corporation. 2003.
7, 8 Guttman G. Blocked Atlantal Nerve Syndrome in Babies and Infants. Manuelle Medizin 1987; 25. Also reviewed in Chiropractic Report 1989;3(2) (as cited in Chestnut, 2003)
7 Biedermann H. Kinematic Imbalances Due to Suboccipital Strain in Newborns. Manual Medicine 1992,6 (as cited in Chestnut, 2003).
9) Macarthur C, Xiaohan H, Wesson DE, Parkin PC. Risk factors for severe injuries associated with falls from playground equipment. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2000; 32: 377–382.
10 Anderson-Peacock L. Chiropractic adjustment of children. Can. Chiropractor 1996; 1(2): 21-26
11 Hartvigsen J, Hestbaek L. Children and Chiropractic Care: A Window of Opportunity. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2009;32:603-605.
13, Alcantara J, Ohm J, Kunz D.The Safety and Effectiveness of Pediatric Chiropractic: A Survey of Chiropractors and Parents in a Practice-Based Research Network. Explore 2009; 5:290-295.
Shawn Anchor "The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance" TED talk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M&feature=player_embedded#!