Body Weight Control Is a Key Element of Motor Control for Toddlers’ Walking
Kerkman JN., Zandvoort CS., Daffertshofer A., Dominici N.
New-borns can step when supported for about 70–80% of their own body weight. Gravity-related sensorimotor information might be an important factor in developing the ability to walk independently. We explored how body weight support alters motor control in toddlers during the first independent steps and in toddlers with about half a year of walking experience. Sixteen different typically developing children were assessed during (un)supported walking on a running treadmill. Electromyography of 18–24 bilateral leg and back muscles and vertical ground reaction forces were recorded. Strides were grouped into four levels of body weight support ranging from no (<10%), low (10–35%), medium (35–55%), and high (55–95%) support. We constructed muscle synergies and muscle networks and assessed differences between levels of support and between groups. In both groups, muscle activities could be described by four synergies. As expected, the mean activity decreased with body weight support around foot strikes. The younger first-steps group showed changes in the temporal pattern of the synergies when supported for more than 35% of their body weight. In this group, the muscle network was dense with several interlimb connections. Apparently, the ability to process gravity-related information is not fully developed at the onset of independent walking causing motor control to be fairly disperse. Synergy-specific sensitivity for unloading implies distinct neural mechanisms underlying (the emergence of) these synergies.