Nobody is really too sure as to what causes asthma. Many theories have been proposed. None have proven definitive as a scientifically accepted universal explanation.
This article seeks to contribute to that debate by offering a less widely recognised reason why asthma may have become so prevalent over the last half century.
Pushchairs have existed throughout the twentieth century but it was in the mid 1960’s with the invention of the folding umbrella pushchair by Owen Maclaren that they radically changed their design with a much stronger emphasis on their practicality.
Lightweight, compact, versatile and cheaper, pushchairs became the main source of infant transportation, superseding the bulky, monstrous prams that previously dominated. Unfortunately, to all intent and purpose, it meant that the satisfaction of baby transportation became driven more by the requirements of parents rather than by the needs of the baby.
Could this development have actually been detrimental to the baby? It certainly coincides with a substantive growth in the rates of asthma in young children.
The theory goes as follows. The way we position and handle a baby will impact on its development.
When a baby is first born its spine will have a convex curve in the shape of the letter C. Over the following few months a secondary curve develops known as the cervical curve. This precedes the third phase – the lumbar curve – this develops when the baby begins to crawl. Full spinal development does not occur until between twelve and eighteen months when walking has been achieved.
These early years are obviously a very sensitive, very formative time for spinal development. Yet during this time we will put our babies in pushchairs, into positions that are not necessarily natural to them. How ever you want to describe it….slouched, hunched, scooped, slumped…..babies, young children can spend a considerable time with their backs unnaturally curved.
Even worse, the baby will often be sleeping in these seated positions. Pushchairs and car seats are notorious for sending infants to sleep. In fact, many parents use the afternoon walk with the pushchair or drive time as an opportunity for the infant to have a nap.
Sleep is that time when infants will grow. They are therefore potentially experiencing growth phases when in a strained, unnatural position. Under such circumstances it would be all too easy for any growth to be distorted. Their bones – particularly around the spinal chord – may become misaligned, misshaped or unbalanced.
Such imperfect, unnatural growth may not be readily noticeable but it may nevertheless be sufficient to impact on their bodily functions – in this case on their ability to breath efficiently.
In fact, these deformities may only impact as the child gets older and makes more demands of its body.
The flawed positioning of the bones puts pressure on the nerves around the neck and chest so that the child’s airways do not respond as they should when exposed to certain undesirable elements – pollutants, dust, allergens. The child then experiences an asthma attack because their body is not able to defend itself from the foreign intruder.
Nowadays, there is much better guidance on pushchair usage in relation to new-born babies – that they should be kept flat, that they should not spend too much time in their pushchair or car seat. The importance of having horizontal placement is widely recognised for correct spinal development. This may account for the fact that there has been a slight reduction in the growth of childhood asthma over the last decade.
Yet this advice is very general. There is limited information as to when the growing infant should progress from a lying down position into a seated position.
One must also question whether parents always heed this advice. They may be deterred from purchasing a carrycot by the added expense or they may find that the baby outgrows its carrycot too quickly.
Health professionals know that poor posture leads to poor breathing – shallow, distorted and restricted. By “incarcerating” babies in inappropriate pushchairs and car seats we are not only hindering their natural growth and development but we are also remodelling it into an unnatural and potentially disabling shape.
There has only been limited research into any direct link between spinal development and asthma.
In 2004, Hostbaeck identified a correlation between infants and adolescents who suffer from back pain and asthma.
Lopes (2006) identified postural distortion patterns in asthmatic patients. This made it more difficult for them to breath.
Lunardi (2011) reported that patients with asthma had certain physical characteristics – they tended to lean their head and shoulders further forward, their chest wall had less expansion, and they were less flexible in the thoracic spine.
Some chiropractors do promote treatments as a means to cure or, more likely, ease asthma suffering. They purport that chiropractic treatment can help to correct poor posture and spinal positioning and thereby eliminate obstructions to the nerves around the lungs. In so doing, by releasing the restriction it allows the thoracic cavity to expand as required. Currently, the evidence seems to be mainly anecdotal.
Of course pushchairs cannot be singularly responsible for asthma. Our posture is influenced by other factors as well, which may explain why asthma can develop in people at various stages of life, including as adults. Children will experience knocks and falls which can have an impact; they will spend too long slouching in front of the television or on games consoles; they may be obliged to carry heavy rucksacks or bags to school.
Similarly, with adults, poor posture can be caused by our sedentary lifestyle – driving, desk jobs, being overweight, watching too much television.
Ultimately, we must accept that whenever we move away from what nature intended there will be consequences. Nature intended for babies to be carried. It may therefore be that by using pushchairs as widely and as often as we do we are impacting our physical development and thereby affecting the ability of our body to function effectively. Asthma could be one such consequence.
© Copyright Steve Oxley 2017