Things You Didn’t Know a Physiotherapist Could Do for Your Kids

Things You Didn’t Know a Physiotherapist Could Do for Your KidsAdd subheading.png

Marie is my physiotherapist and I've learned so much from her about what doesn't need to be painful and what I need to pay attention to, both for myself and for my kids. I asked her to share some advice to parents when it comes to some of the things that we don't think of physio for when it comes to our kids, but that can be SO helpful. Both my twins have REALLY benefitted from physio for their growing pains. Read on!  ~Lara

I have been a physiotherapist for too many years than I care to mention.  I have worked with everyone from premature newborns who fit in the palm of your hand to the elderly facing end of life issues.  I must admit though, school aged children hold a very special place in my heart.  Don’t they just say the darndest things sometimes?  I love their absolute candor and their ability to call you on your you-know-what.  When you are working with them you had better be prepared to answer questions honestly or you will pay. 

When people find out I am a physiotherapist they often ask me questions about things like their kids’ sports injuries or maybe their own back pain.  However, there are some things people never ask me that I wish they would.  There are a number of things a physiotherapist can help your kids with that no one knows about, so I would like to share a couple of them with you. 

Growing Pains

Let me tell you about a stellar parenting moment of my own.  When my daughter was about four years old she started complaining about pain in her legs.  She would be walking just fine and then suddenly stop and say she couldn’t go any further, or she would complain at bedtime.  I just wrote it off as drama queen behaviour and ignored it.  Then one night she was really crying so I gave in and checked out her legs.  The moment I got hold of her muscles I felt horrible.  They were incredibly tight through the entire length of both legs.  My heart sank because I knew that all this time she was having growing pains and I could have stopped them. 

What?  You can treat growing pains you say?  Despite everything you will read on the internet that says no one knows what causes growing pains and the only thing you can do for them is give pain medication like Tylenol, yes growing pains can be treated and here’s why.

I believe growing pains are caused when the long bones like the ones in the legs, which is primarily where growing pains occur, grow rapidly.  The problem is the muscles lag behind and this is what causes the pain.  These growth spurts are not just your imagination.  They are indeed very real.  Studies in which kids were measured daily have shown that kids don’t grow about 90 – 95% of the time, so all of their growth occurs within a very small timeframe. 

The bones have specialized areas from which growth occurs.  These are called growth plates and they are found at each end of a long bone.  When growth occurs the bones sprout new cells to either side of each growth plate so lengthening can occur rapidly.  Muscles do not have these specific growth areas so they take longer to lengthen. 

The obvious result when a growth spurt occurs then, is the muscles get tight since they can’t keep pace with the lengthening of the bones.  It is the tightness in the muscles that causes the pain, particularly when kids are active.  They are running around trying to use their muscles but the muscles aren’t happy because they are too short. 

This begs the question, well why can’t we just have them do stretches to make these pains go away?  The problem with stretching is that it indiscriminately pulls the ends of the muscle in opposite directions.  This applies a stretch along the entire length of the muscle.  That’s good right? 

The reason this isn’t terribly effective is that tightness in a muscle never occurs evenly throughout the entire length.  It is localized in small bunches of tight fibres, so you have very tight parts interspersed with loose parts.  When we stretch the entire muscle the loose parts happily give while the tight parts huddle together giggling and saying “why should I lengthen when my neighbour is willing?” 

To release the tight parts and relieve the growing pains you have to get your hands in there, find the tight bits of muscle, and manually release them.  This stops the growing pains every time, usually with one or two treatments.  I knew this and I still let it happen for a while before I did something about it, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t know. 

Preventing Knee Injuries in Girls in Early Puberty

Did you know that girls who play sports requiring quick changes in direction such as soccer or rugby are far more likely to sustain knee injuries when they hit puberty than boys?  In fact, girls who play sports are four to six times more likely to injure the anterior cruciate ligament (one of the main ligaments of the knee) than boys. 

Dr. Google will tell you that this is due to things like lack of strength in the hamstrings and gluteals (buttock muscles).  But why would muscles that have been working perfectly fine suddenly quit in puberty?  And why just in girls and not boys?  The reason is alignment. 

When girls hit puberty one of the biggest changes in the skeletal structure that occurs is a change in the shape of the pelvis.  They go from stick figures to curvy figures.  The pelvis widens and they suddenly have hips.  This changes the angle of the long bone in the upper leg called the femur.  As the pelvis widens it pushes out the top end of the femur farther to the outside.  This then changes the angle at the other end of the bone where it forms the upper part of the knee joint. 

When this significant change in alignment occurs the muscles get discombobulated.  The angle at which they are used to pulling is all wrong suddenly and they don’t quite know what to do with themselves so they just up and quit.  This leaves your daughter with instability through the hips, pelvis, and down into the knees and ankles, which sets the stage for a catastrophic knee injury.  This is so prevalent now that physiotherapists are seeing girls as young as 20 who have had two or three knee surgeries and are having to quit their sport of choice.

These injuries are preventable.  All that is needed is to manually realign the muscles in their new slightly different-angled environment.  They need a little guidance to settle into their new angle of pull.  Once this is accomplished stability is restored and the risk of injury is greatly reduced. 

While many people seek physiotherapy treatment when they are injured, no one ever thinks to seek help to avoid injury.  I would love to see this change.  We tune up our cars to avoid a breakdown, why don’t we do the same for our bodies?

If you are wondering if your daughter is having issues with stability, here are a couple of simple things you can check out.  Have her try a single leg squat making sure that she stays aligned square to the front.  If she can’t do this with solid balance then there is likely a problem of stability. 

Hopping on one foot with both arms in the air is another good test.  By raising the arms we take away one major balance cheating strategy and we can better evaluate the stability in the core.  If she can hop several times in one spot without travelling all over the place, losing her balance, and remaining square to the front then things are good.  If not, she may need some help to restore balance and alignment.

Physiotherapy Can Help

Sometimes when kids fall or have an accident we make the assumption that they are fine.  After all kids, seem to bounce like rubber and carry on.  While they may do so, they often need treatment after an incident just like we do.  If your child is complaining of pain don’t ignore it.  Even if it does go away, their movement patterns are likely off as they compensate around the affected area and this will have consequences down the road. 

Get your kids treated when something happens to them and don’t forget to consider physiotherapy for injury prevention.  Let’s keep them all active and healthy!

Marie has been practicing physiotherapy for almost 30 years.  She has extensive paediatric experience having worked the first decade of her career at CHEO.  She has two kids who suffer growing pains periodically and is the owner of M.A.P. Physiotherapy, a physiotherapy clinic in Orleans.  

Food and beverage marketing to children: Changing the trend

We all want what’s best for our children—especially when it comes to their health and nutrition. So, why is keeping junk food out of the house so difficult? Where are children learning about the food they eat and the beverages they drink? Did you know children are being marketed to on a daily basis?

As parents, avoiding advertising and marketing for children and youth can be surprisingly difficult. Marketing is everywhere: television, video games, online, in movies, endorsed by characters and celebrities, and even on packages and labeling of products.

Marketing to children

What is marketing?

By its very nature, marketing is designed to persuade people into purchasing a product or service. For influential young minds, this persuasion can lead to unhealthy food and beverage choices.

Food and beverage marketing to children

Healthy food and beverage choices start in childhood, and unfortunately children learn a lot about both through marketing.

Every time a child turns on the television they are exposed to a variety of marketing messages. Before the age of five, most children can’t tell the difference between an advertisement and a television show.  Manufacturers and big brands recognize how easily influenced children and youth can be, and invest a lot of money to create marketing messages they feel will influence a child’s dietary decisions.

If a child sees a marketing message for a particular beverage a child will, more than likely, ask their parents if they can have that particular beverage—healthy or not.

Ottawa Public Health is working hard to help parents and their children learn the difference between healthy dietary choices and marketing ploys. Armed with the right knowledge and resources, parents and children will be able to make healthier and more informed dietary choices.

Eating healthy - marketing food and beverages to children

What can parents do to help change the marketing trend?

Parents need to do their research on products and read food labels. Just because something says it is 100% natural does not mean it is made with natural ingredients. Eat fresh foods as much as possible, and when shopping for packaged goods, look for products that have reduced salt or sugar and no trans fats.

Parents can also help educate their children on what marketing means and help their children differentiate between learning something new and trying to be convinced to buy something.

It can be hard to say to no to junk food, but teaching moderation and offering alternative, healthier options is a step in the right direction.

Food and beverage marketing to children

Marketing regulations

With growing obesity rates in children, it has become the mission of public health organizations to create stricter policies and regulations concerning the marketing of food and beverages to children and youth.

In Canada, the Federal government is constantly working to introduce restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children and youth. These regulations include improving the information found on food labels.

The province of Quebec has already banned commercial advertisements specifically directed at children under the age of 13. Since this change, Quebec is the highest consumer of fruits and vegetables and has the lowest obesity rates for children between the ages of six and eleven.

To find out more information on how marketing influences the dietary choices of children and youth, and what steps are being taken to change these practices, visit Ottawa Public Health online.


Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by the City of Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health).

Sweetener Swap: 5 Alternatives to Sugar

It’s so easy to reach for that sweet, inexpensive, white stuff when you’re mixing up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. White sugar is delicious! And no matter how healthy we become (some days… after many, many attempts), we will still prefer the taste of white sugar in our treats.

As parents, we can either accept sugar defeat, or we can try using a few healthier alternatives at home to drastically cut down the amount of sugar our family is consuming.

Photo courtesy of StockSnap

Photo courtesy of StockSnap

Here are 5 sweetener alternatives and the best ways to use them:


An obvious choice but hey, what other sweetener on the planet has enzymes, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants galore, and is good for combating seasonal allergies and protecting your digestive system? I use honey in my kid’s treats a lot! Honey can be pricey to bake with, but it’s best not to heat raw honey to retain its incredible health benefits. Use it in ready to eat treats, such as drizzled on yoghurt, porridge, or toast with nut/seed butter, homemade lemonade and salad dressing.

Maple Syrup

Another sweetener choice is maple syrup. It also contains plenty of antioxidants and minerals like zinc, manganese, potassium, and calcium. It can be quite affordable too if you stock up at one of Ottawa’s farmers markets in-season. Whereas honey is best eaten raw, maple syrup is awesome in any way including baked goods, homemade granola, glazes for roast vegetables or BBQ ribs.

Ripe Bananas / Apples / Pears

You can’t go wrong with adding fruit. Diced or pureed, fruit adds a lovely aroma to baking and produces incredible moisture. Not to mention it’s just about the healthiest way to go. What better way to use up that spotty brown banana and half-wrinkled apple that your kid forgot in his lunchbox over the weekend? Sweeten smoothies, muffins, pancakes, homemade popsicles…get creative!

Photo by  Jennifer Pallian

Coconut Sugar

Before you say ‘I’m healthy, but not that healthy’, try coconut sugar in your coffee. It has a slight caramel flavour like brown sugar and no, it doesn’t taste like coconut. It’s another sweetener that is packed with awesome nutritional benefits and has a low glycemic index. Use it just like sugar in your coffee, tea, sweet bread, cookies or add a touch to your tomato sauce.


Don’t pass this one by. Dates pack a HUGE nutritional punch and can save your baking without compromising taste. Psst, moms... they help you metabolize proteins, fats, and carbs. Really! Quickly soak and finely chop dates (or blitz with a few tablespoons of soaking liquid), and add them in the same ratio as sugar to sweeten your baked goods. They are wonderful in your favourite baked treats, added to oatmeal or yoghurt, and as snacks for your kids and babies!

It’s hard to give up sugar, perhaps it’s unavoidable, but it’s not as hard as it seems to swap it out. Give these alternative sweeteners a try and you may find that one or all of them will work wonders in cutting down your consumption of sugar. Your kiddos likely won’t bat an eye at your sweetener swap and you’ll be one happy mama for it.

Post written by Tatiana Westberg.

10 Things You Can Do for Someone Going Through Cancer

cancer support

When I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, my daughter was only 6 years old. It was a difficult time, full of uncertainty, fear, anger, helplessness. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time, and so did my husband and our young daughter as well.  When cancer hits, it sweeps through the whole family.

After slowly coming to terms with the diagnosis, we began telling family and close friends. And as the news filtered out to our wider community of friends, neighbours, colleagues, and even acquaintances, we found people wanted to help but weren’t always sure what to do or how to ask. In the end, it was simpler and easier for everyone if we just let people know exactly what we needed and how they could help.

So here’s a list of 10 things you can do for someone going through cancer:

1.       Deliver a meal. It doesn’t have to be fancy or made of only organic ingredients. If you are making a meal for your own family, double it up and bring it over. Remember to not only think of the cancer patient but the rest of the family, which may include young children. A batch of pasta sauce that can be frozen for later use is a good option. Here’s a handy and free scheduling tool called the Care Calendar. Family and friends can use this to coordinate meals.

cancer support

2.       Show up on their doorstep with an empty laundry basket. Routine household chores are probably not high on their priority list, but still need to get done sooner or later. Returning a basketful of freshly laundered and folded clothes will be a tremendous help.

3.       Run errands or pick up a few groceries. If you are worried about showing up at the wrong time, have them leave a list in the mailbox that you can pick up in the morning, or pre-arrange a convenient time. If you are doing a run to the pharmacy or grocery store anyway, picking up some extra items is not a big deal.

4.       Provide childcare. If they have young children, invite them over for a play date with your children. If you don’t have kids, or their kids are older, take them on an outing. Going to a movie will be a welcome distraction. Even a sleepover may work if the child is okay with being away from home. The parent(s) may need a break, as young children don’t understand why mommy or daddy is so tired all the time. Or the parents may need some alone time to chat. And the children may need time away from home to have some fun.

5.       Accompany/drive them to appointments and treatments. Having a note-taker during medical appointments is crucial. Doctors pass on a lot of information and use a lot of medical terms, which may not be fully grasped in the moment. Sitting with them during a treatment may be reassuring and will help to pass the time. Even a friendly and familiar face out there in the waiting room can be a source of comfort.

6.       Do exercise, yoga, meditation with them. Any type of activity that is enjoyable and good for their well-being will be welcome. It will help them feel better and gives you both something to focus on besides trying to fill up those awkward gaps in conversation.

yoga for cancer

7.       Check in with their spouse or caregiver. They are often forgotten in all of this. They are usually doing double duty especially if there are kids involved so they can be physically and emotionally drained.

8.       Don’t be afraid to talk to the kids about it. Adults are often afraid to bring up bad news with kids. They don’t want to upset them but kids are intuitive. They know what’s going on. They will probably appreciate it if you ask how mom or dad or their sibling is doing. They may need someone outside of the family circle to talk to. If you’re unsure about this, check with the parents first.

9.       Just be there and listen. Don’t offer advice (unless specifically asked for) and don’t bring up stories about Aunt Mary who went through the same thing. Everyone’s experience is different. Sit, hold their hand, pass a tissue, give a hug, make a cup of tea, let them be the lead.

Helping someone with cancer

10.   Send a card. It will let them know you are aware of what’s going on and you are thinking of them. Emily McDowell’s empathy cards will hit just the right note.

It was truly heartwarming when so many people found ways to help us during my cancer experience. And it wasn’t only family and close friends but distant neighbours, friends of friends, people we know casually. We will always be grateful for the heartfelt support we received during this difficult time. It made the journey that much easier. As The Beatles sang so well, “Oh I get by with a little help from my friends”.

Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made clothing for women touched by breast cancer. Please check out her website at




Back to School and Childhood Anxiety

childhood anxiety

It's back to school again, which means a lot of kids are worried about what the new school year will mean for them in terms of their teacher, friends, homework, etc. But what if these worries are keeping your child up at night? For more than just one night? Is it normal childhood worries or is it anxiety?

A child would much rather be having fun than feeling sick for reasons they don’t understand and no parent likes to see their child so nervous that they can’t sleep for days on end. Some children feel anxious when it comes to public speaking, for others it could be attending a birthday party, and for some just the thought of having to go back to school is enough to make their head hurt.

Anxiety is more than just worry. It is more than just nervous “butterflies”. If your school age child is constantly clingy, cries or suffers from excessive shyness in social situations; has constant worrying or if bellyaches are frequent then your child may be experiencing anxiety. If your child’s regular routine, such as going to school, going over to a friend’s house or participating in activities is affected then your child may be experiencing anxiety. According to Anxiety BC, anxiety affects about 20% of children and adolescents.

If you think your child is experiencing anxiety you may think it is easiest to look online for help, but sometimes something we read online is not enough. Cheryl Grant, MSW, RSW of C&C Counselling Services says it really also comes down to “assessing what's behind it all and the child's beliefs and family dynamics (especially if parents are also dealing with anxiety).”

In addition to seeking professional assistance, there are some books and websites that are informative when it comes to learning more about childhood worries and anxiety. With Cheryl’s help here are some tried and true resources about childhood anxiety:


Wemberley Worried by Kevin Henkes

This storybook is helpful for younger children. Wemberley is a young mouse who worries about everything, but by the end of the book she realizes that she worries about so much that she has no cause for her worry.

This book is great for young kids who tend to worry about every little thing: will my friends still like me, will I have a good time, etc. It lets them know that worry is normal, but that it shouldn’t get in the way from experiencing new things.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Told through the story of a mother raccoon comforting her child raccoon by kissing its paw before it leaves for school, The Kissing Hand is a great book for younger children who may have separation anxiety or are anxious about leaving their parents on the first day of daycare or school. The message is that their parents will always be with them – even when they are not physically present.

When My worries get too big! A Relaxation Book for Children who live with Anxiety by Kari Dunn

This book teaches children self-calming techniques, including meditation and yoga positions and has some activities that reading-level children can work through to identify their levels of anxiety.

What To Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huber

This book includes activities and promotes valuable discussions between a parent and their child. If you have trouble discussing or understanding childhood anxiety then this book is a great tool to start the conversation as well as to help children identify and fight their worries in a real way.

The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbooks for Kids by Lawrence Shapiro & Robin Sprague

Written by two child therapists, this book contains more than fifty activities kids and parents can do together to help both parents and child replace stressful and anxious feelings with positive feelings. This book includes relaxation techniques and short activities children can do to create a sense of fulfillment and calm. The idea in this workbook is not only for the child to feel calm, but also for the parents to reduce their feelings of stress and overwhelm. 


7 Ways to Help Anxious Kids

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada - Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety BC Website (there is a section devoted to parent and child, but they also speak to resources for youth, etc.)

Anxiety in children is more common than you think and chances are a child in your life is suffering. Children can suffer from a variety of anxiety disorders, some of which are the same as what adults suffer from. Various situations can bring on the intense feelings associated with anxiety – and sometimes it is difficult for the child, let alone their parents to know what those situations are and what they can do to help. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing anxiety, the first step is to talk to be supportive and contact your family doctor about getting assistance from a mental health professional. Rest assured that children can overcome anxiety with the right tools and support.