Every mother knows that round shoulders provide a common and troublesome deformity in the nursery during the years of rapid growth. The child who is not very robust physically, who is inclined to stoop when reading and writing, who shows a passive distaste for games and outdoor exercises, almost certainly slouches and loses the erect, graceful carriage of early childhood. From the aesthetic point of view the evils of slouching are apparent enough. The round-shouldered child, unless proper attention is paid to the condition, will become the ungainly man or ungraceful girl in after years.
Slouching wall spoil the appearance of anyone, and the Greeks were certainly right in making physical culture an essential part of training the young. From the medical point of view the evils, although less apparent, are exceedingly far-reaching. The slouching child breathes in a shallow fashion. His attitude exercises depression on the vital organs, his relaxed muscles are the first stage of permanent bony deformity. Any mother can avoid all the drawbacks of round shoulders if she will take the child in hand early enough, and systematically follow the few simple instructions to be given in this article.
To understand what contributes to so-called "round shoulders" it is necessary first to realise that the neck muscles, spinal muscles, and the muscles of the shoulder-blades are flabby, relaxed, lacking in tone. It is, indeed, a practical impossibility for the round-shouldered child to maintain the erect carriage all day. Spurred by numerous reproaches from critical relatives, the poor child makes heroic efforts at intervals to "hold his shoulders back," "to keep his back up," "to walk straight." Alas! two minutes of the muscular strain entailed will induce greater collapse and more marked slouching deportment.
I fence, the first thing that the mother of a round-shouldered child has to do is to cease nagging. Let her stop continual reproaches in and out of season, and set herself to give tone, health, and vitality to the enfeebled muscles of the child. Muscles are strong bands 0f flesh fibre, stretching from one bone to another. When they are in good condition, they keep the bones in correct position. When they are weak from disuse or general poor health, they are incapable of performing their normal function. The result is that the shoulder-blades, for example, stick out behind instead of being kept flat and trig against the ribs. The neck muscles, also enfeebled, allow the head to droop forwards and the chin to "poke." The muscles of the spine are quite unable to keep the thirty odd bones of the spinal column in exact position, and weak back and enfeebled gait are the inevitable results. We will now consider a few proper exercises for remedying round shoulders in the nursery.
Head and Neck Exercises (a) Let the child stand straight with the arms hanging to the side, and then slowly move the head back as far as possible. After holding it in this position for a few seconds, he may then slowly bring it to the level again.
Fig. 2. To cure round shoulders, the child lies on an inclined plane, with a cushion under the waist, and stretches the arms above the head several times, bringing them back to the side after
(b) Turn the head as far as possible to the right, then slowly swing it in a circle as far as possible over the left shoulder.
(c) Let someone stand and clasp the hands behind his neck. Now make him raise his head backwards against the resistance of the clasped hands (see Fig. 1).
Repeat each of these exercises ten times.
To strengthen the muscles of the shoulder-blade (a) let the child stand straight, with the heels together and clasping the hands low down behind. Bring the shoulder-blades together by rolling the shoulders backwards until the bones nearly touch. Then relax the shoulders again, and repeat.
This exercise is quite painful at first because the muscles have so little power of contracting.
(6) Let the child stand with the arms horizontal with the shoulders and push the hands backwards at the same level ten times.
The great point about these two exercises is that the arms are not moved forwards in front of the shoulders at all, as every effort should be made to strengthen the muscles drawing the shoulder-blades back.
The spinal muscles require rest as well as regular, systematic exercise. If the child can be made to he flat on his back for one hour daily the beneficial effect of the exercise will be increased tenfold. This rest is particularly necessary if there is any spinal weakness in the shape of curvature. We shall give only three of the exercises which aim at the training of the muscles of the trunk and back, as it is far better for a mother to know a few exercises well which she can teach a child properly than a great many indifferently.
(a) Let the child lie on an "inclined plane," which is easily enough constructed by supporting one end of a wooden plank against a hassock. A small cushion should be placed under the waist. Whilst in this position, he must raise the hands as far upwards as possible above the head, then bring them back again to the side raise them level with the shoulders, and bring them back to the original position. (Fig. 2.)
(b) Practise the Swedish, or Ling, movement lor exercising the muscles of the body and shoulders. Kneel on the left knee with the right foot planted firmly in front. Raise the arms above the head, and bend as far backwards as possible. Repeat on the other side with the right knee on the ground.
(c) Let the child lie face downwards over the seat of a chair, and then slowly raise the head and heels as far upwards as possible. Relax again, and repeat. (Fig. 3.)
(d) With the hands on the hips practise bending movements to both sides.
The Child's Chair
This little course of exercises, if practised regularly twice or even three times a day, will gradually, but surely, improve the carriage of the child. The muscles are toned, strengthened, and developed. Thus they do not sag. The body is held upright, with head up, shoulders braced, and back straight, as in the ideal carriage of graceful deportment. Any bad habits, of course, must be corrected. The child should not be allowed to sit in a lop-sided position, to slouch over work. See that he has a comfortable chair, and that he can sit well back with his toes on the ground. It may mean having a chair built to fit the child if he is, perhaps, 6, 8, or 10 the head and heels as far upwards as possible years of age. At this period baby chairs are too small, and adult chairs are not at all suitable in size or build. With improved carriage the whole health is benefited. The child's chest capacity is increased if the shoulders are held in proper position, and if he is encouraged to breathe deeply he ceases to feel and complain of being tired, because he enjoys games more, and becomes less sedentary and more keen on the outdoor games which are so essential to health at this period of life.
For the child to lie face downwards on a chair and slowly raise
Fig. 3. A good exercise for weak spinal and shoulder muscles is
Whilst these exercises are described chiefly for the benefit of children, they may be practised at any age with excellent effect upon the carriage and deportment.