Why baby walkers are a disaster for the growing child.

Why baby walkers are a disaster for the growing child. It was the fourth client in the space of two weeks that prompted me to write this quick blog. Four teenagers all aged 14 with pain and compromised movement. Where did it all start? How does this happen? The parents enquire, looking for a definitive reason.  walker-clipart-baby_in_walker

As with all aetiologies of pain and movement dysfunction it can be hard to determine exactly what drives an individual’s problems. But when you can observe the way that a young person breathes you can, in most cases determine whether they have been placed in a baby walker, without any other form of assessment.

A rough overview would reveal that, within the first 9 months of movement and prior to the process of standing (verticalisation) there are many key stages of development that need to occur.

These include.

  • Lifting the head
  • Stabilising the back line between neck, chest and pelvis
  • Rotation via rolling
  • Quadra pedal or four point stance
  • Crawling and cross patterning of shoulder to hip.

So why is it that the baby walker is such a problem?

Consider the actions that a baby needs to achieve before it stands, let alone walks. Crawling develops hip, trunk and shoulder musculature. Due to the reciprocal relationship between the neck and the lower back, which counter rotates to the direction of the thoracic spine, optimal conditioning of reflexes, muscles, tendons and ligaments should occur. If a child is placed into a walker, the challenge is then geared towards locomotion and gait, rather than rolling and crawling. This is where the problems start and it presents several issues to consider.

  1. The ability to stabilise using the diaphragm is decreased due to in an early standing position, that is not conditioned enough from crawling. (observation can be made by the upper breathing pattern, using chest and neck muscles)
  2. The lower leg muscles are stressed to create movement and in particular the calve muscles are strengthened and may contribute to excessively to actions such as hip and knee flexion and extension (as well as many other movements. (look for those over developed calve muscles)
  3. The lack of rotation created by a lack of motion in the spine, decreases essential loading of the spinal ligaments, which will decrease recruitment of the muscles needed for optimal gait. (you can see poor movement and stability from the most basic movements)

Another insult added into the equation is the constant use of flip-flops. This previous blog breaks down why flip-flops are disastrous for athletic and day-to-day performance.

To develop optimal movement that progresses throughout childhood into adult life, rolling, crawling and walking patterns should not be supported with baby walkers or bouncers. It might be hard to believe but the walker does play a significant part to why younger clients present with pain and movement issues. There's no doubt that technology has significant benefits it many aspects of life. But when it comes to human movement, the brain already has it optimised, you just need to let it of its own thing.

Thankfully with a little work, the problems can be unravelled but don’t get me started on the use of iPads and mobile phones!!

References:

Kobesova, A., Kolar, P., Developmental kinesiology: Three levels of motor control in the assessment and treatment of the motor system, Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013),

Kolar, P. et al. Postural Function of the Diaphragm in Persons With and Without Chronic Low Back Pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2012;42(4):352-