Musing About Movement: 5 Facts About Movement and the Brain

1. Every motor event is a sensory event first. We can optimize movement by preparing/engaging 4 important sensory systems which connect the body and the brain. These systems are vision, hearing, vestibular and proprioception; they can be engaged by visual tracking, music, rhythm, and a variety of deep pressure and specific movement inputs. Each of us has a unique combination of sensory inputs that works best.

2. The vestibular system rocks! The vestibular system is found in the inner ear and it is the most important sense for movement. It has far reaching inputs in the brain including: position in space, orientation against gravity, balance, how fast we are going and which direction we are going. This system also influences vision, contributes to postural tone and assists in regulating our emotions. Specific movements through space can activate the different parts of the vestibular system.

3. The Core is crucial.The 4 inner/anticipatory core muscles (respiratory diaphragm, pelvic floor, transversus abdominis, multifidus) provide central stability which is essential for balance as well as our perceptual sense of midline. If our core is weak/inefficient, then our balance will be decreased. If our sense of midline is compromised, our ability to complete activities that use that midline as a reference will be difficult ex. catching a ball, buttoning our coat or reading print on a page. Alignment is the key to activation of both the anticipatory and reactive core muscles.

4. Fear is the enemy.For most of us, it is easy to match our emotional state to the demands of the task. For example we need a different level of arousal when we are standing in line at the bank than when we are standing waiting for a pass in basketball. And we can also change our state easily as we change tasks – we call this emotional self-regulation. But some children have difficulty with this because their nervous system is in a state of permanent stress. We can’t learn effectively when the brain is functioning in this survival mode because attention is focused on the “threat” not on the details of movement. We need to help set both the internal and external environment to a child’s “just right state” for movement learning.

5. Learning motor skills requires practice and problem solving.Initially to learn a new motor skill it is best for us to practice a many times in a row. Then we practice it randomly. Finally we can practice our new skill in different environments and develop alternate ways to accomplish the same goal through problem solving. Here’s an example of how this process might look with a child: Sally wants to learn to hop on one foot to play with her friends at recess.

Practice a new motor skill many times in a row: Sally learns to stand on one foot and hop. She practices in the therapy gym many times in a row.

Practice the skill randomly. Sally begins to practice her hopping in between different activities during therapy.

Practice in different environments. Sally begins to practice hopping at home in her room, in the kitchen and in the driveway.

Develop alternate ways to accomplish the goal through problem solving. Sally finds it more difficult to hop when she is in the driveway and indicates it is because there is more noise. Sally decides she can count out loud to help her develop a rhythm and focus on hopping rather than the noise.

When we look at movement it is best to look at all the systems and how they work together for each person. The brain works best with input on many different levels so we can create flexible options developed through preparation, guidance and experience.


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