The Role of Walking Experience in the Emergence of Gait Harmony in Typically Developing Toddlers
De Bartolo D., Zandvoort CS., Goudriaan M., Kerkman JN., Iosa M., Dominici N.
The ability to walk without support usually develops in the first year of a typically developing toddler’s life and matures further in the following years. Mature walking is characterized by the correct timing of the different gait phases that make up a full gait cycle formed by stance, swing, and double support phases. The harmony of mature walking is given by a specific self-similar structure of the ratios between the durations of these phases (stride/stance, stance/swing, swing/double support), that in adults all converge to the golden ratio (phi, about 1.618). The aim of this longitudinal, prospective, experimental study was to investigate the evolution of this gait harmonic structure in the transition from supported to independent walking. In total, 27 children were recruited and recorded at various stages of locomotor development, ranging from neonatal stepping up to an independent walking experience of about six months. Differently from walking speed that progressively increased with age, the gait phase ratios started to converge to golden value only after the first independent steps, suggesting a relation to the maturation of the walking experience. The independent walking experience seems to represent a trigger for the evolution of a locomotor harmonic pattern in toddlers learning to walk.