Motor Skills and Postural Control – Weight Shift
Weight shift is an integral part of the development of balance and postural control and underpins the control and stability of our static and dynamic movements. The ability to weight shift efficiently assists and readies us for motor skills in all positions, and allows stability and proximal control for skilled movement. For example, weight shift from one side to the other is important sitting in the class room as writing requires the transfer of weight to the stabilising side or arm, to allow the dominant hand to hold the pencil and draw or write freely. We usually do this automatically, however in children with low tone and/or immature postural control or balance, this control is sometimes not achieved. Instead they may attempt to “lean” on the writing hand or are unable to hold the body steady for easy control of the dominant hand.
The ability to transfer weight is evident early in development – a baby lying on their tummy weight shifts to the supporting arm to reach out for a toy and when learning to crawl spends a good deal of time rocking and practising weight transfer. Once standing is achieved, side stepping around furniture is often used for quite an extended period, practising the transfer of weight from one side to the other prior to walking. When there is immature development of the ability to weight shift with corresponding control of the stabilising side motor skills can still progress however the underlying stability and postural control is inefficient and therefore affects the quality of the motor skill and often endurance.
Everyday activities such as negotiating stairs, stepping over or onto obstacles such as curbs, lifting one foot to dress and playground activities all rely on the efficient transfer of weight and postural stability. Children begin using stairs by placing two feet to each step and then gradually begin to place alternate feet on each step as confidence and ability improves. There are many fun activities that can assist the development of more efficient weight transfer and at the same time enhance balance, general postural control and motor skills.
Obstacle courses at home are a wonderful way to encourage these skills and some ideas are:
- Step up/down activities – old telephone books wrapped together to make different heights for “blocks” are great for this
- Stepping in and out – cardboard boxes (you can cut down to suitable height) taped together in a line like a train for this activity or alternatively plastic storage boxes you may have at home – start with placing two feet in each box then progress to one foot or alternate feet in each box, increase the height as proficiency improves
- Draw circles or place rubber spots on the ground – leap from spot to spot, then progress to only using one foot to each spot and gradually move the spots/circles further apart
- Obstacles such as pillows in various sizes can make great hurdles
- Climbing – rope ladders, over piles of large pillows together, slippery slide ladder in the playground
- Walking on hands like a wheelbarrow – it is far easier on the assisting adults back to do this over a therapy ball if you have one, otherwise do with care and only if your child can support his/her own weight with a reasonably straight spine (not too much sagging)
- Commando crawling under a low table
- Animal walks – squat like a duck and waddle, bear walk, crab walk
- Hitting a ball or balloon with a plastic bat or fly swat – need to transfer weight to swing arm through
- Progress to hopscotch games with circles on the ground or rubber spots – keep this simple to begin with, maybe just two hops and then jump with feet apart
- Kicking a ball – make up a goal with a large opened out cardboard box in the garden, or with a soft ball use a doorway in the house
- Encourage experimenting (with close supervision) with a variety of equipment in the playground – rope ladders, climbing frames, balance beams and wobbly bridges or rides
** Rubber spots are a very versatile and useful piece of equipment (available at places such as Hart’s Sport’s online). The spots are non slip and colourful and can be used for a wonderful variety of games such as for stepping stones, jumping/hopping games, twister or motor planning games and also are sometimes useful to place on a seat to assist with preventing sliding forward in the chair.
Diana Moore – Physiotherapist – LET’S TALK Developmental Hub