Our teenage son has recently had a growth spurt and now he is walking like an old man – what can we do to help him?
Regular trips to the shoe shop and trousers that seem to shrink in the wash are features of living with teenagers. In their teens, children put on an amazing growth spurt to reach their adult height. Girls usually do this more gradually from 8 to 14, but in boys it often occurs more suddenly between 13 and 16 and they can grow taller by as much as 9 cm in a year!
This phenomenal growth starts at the outside of the body and works in. Hands and feet are the first to expand so needing new shoes is often the first sign of trouble. Next the arms and legs grow longer, but even here the ‘outside in’ rule applies and the shin bones lengthen before the thigh and the forearm before the upper arm. Finally the spine grows and right at the end the chest and shoulders of boys broaden out and in girls their hips and pelvis widen.
Growth spurts happen to all kids, but they can wreak havoc on their athletic life and posture. Their bodies go through periods of rapid vertical growth punctuated by periods of “filling out” as the muscles catch up with the bones. Particularly in boys there are great periods of time where the bone growth out-strips the muscle growth and during this time they can look hunched and awkward. Add to this that due to the rapid upward growth they are having to deal with a changing centre of gravity and it’s no wonder teenagers often appear clumsy.
The good news though is that there are definite things that help!
- Good nutrition throughout this time is essential as growing bodies need all the fuel they can get to help with the rapid growth.
- Regular sleeping habits will help the body adjust to the changes it is going through and allow it to continue its repairing functions also, so don’t be surprised if they seem to be permanently asleep!
- It is important to maintain activity level, despite the temporary clumsiness, so encourage them to keep up with sports and explain that the lack of co-ordination will improve.
- Stretching is more important than ever to help ensure that the muscles can lengthen and keep up with the sudden bone growth. As well as stretching pre and post sport they often benefit from stretching on a daily basis and may need help initially with this to ensure correct technique.
- Core strengthening exercises are key to keeping stability, especially around the spine, as they shoot upwards. Pilates type exercises may seem dull to a teenager, but all the football academies recommend this type of training as they recognise the importance of deep muscle strength in their players.
Safe Hamstring stretches
The most common tight muscles are the hamstrings – the muscle at the back of the thigh. When these tighten it can affect the spine as well as the legs leading to an inability to straighten up properly. The safest form of hamstring stretch is NOT to touch your toes as you are more likely to stretch your back than your hamstrings. Instead lie on your back. Raise your left leg with a straight knee until you feel a slight pull in the back of the thigh keeping your bottom on the ground. Hold this for 10 seconds and as the tightness subsides raise your leg a little further ( keeping your knee straight) till you feel the pull again. Hold for another ten seconds and then try to raise it a little higher for a final ten seconds. Repeat on the other leg and do each stretch three times on each leg.
If you have concerns about any teenager with muscular or joint issues associated with growth spurts visit one of our Physiotherapists for an MOT – during an hour appointment we will check muscle lengths and joints and teach correct stretching individualised to your child and the sports and activities they take part in. Call us on 01706 819464
By Lynne Midwinter, Chartered Physiotherapist