Postural adjustments and reaching in 4- and 6-month-old infants: an EMG and kinematical study

Victorine B de Graaf-Peters, Hanneke Bakker, Leo A van Eykern, Bert Otten, Mijna Hadders-Algra

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Adequate postural control is a prerequisite for daily activities such as reaching for an object. However, knowledge on the relationship between postural adjustments and the quality of reaching movements during human ontogeny is scarce. Therefore we evaluated the development of the relationship between the kinematic features of reaching movements and the accompanying postural adjustments in young infants. Twelve typically developing (TD) infants were assessed twice, i.e. at 4 and 6 months of age, in supine and supported sitting position. Reaching was elicited by presenting toys in the midline at an arm-length distance while simultaneously surface EMG-activity was recorded from multiple arm-, neck-, trunk- and leg muscles. Concurrently kinematics of reaching were recorded with an ELITE system; kinematic analysis was restricted to the behaviour of so-called movement units, which are sub movements of reaching determined with the help of peaks in the velocity profile of the hand, maximum movement velocity and movement duration. A computer-algorithm determined significant phasic muscle activity. Activity in neck and trunk muscles (postural activity) was related to the onset of the prime mover, which was the arm muscle being activated first. The results indicated that about 50% of reaching movements in lying and sitting infants aged 4 and 6 months were accompanied by direction-specific postural adjustments. At 4 months variation dominated, but at 6 months a preference to recruit muscles in a top-down order (during sitting) and in the configuration of the complete pattern, i.e. the pattern in which all dorsal neck- and trunk muscles are activated in concert, (both conditions) emerged. Interestingly, the postural characteristics such as the presence of direction-specificity, recruitment of the complete pattern and top-down recruitment, were related to how successful the reaching was and the kinematics of reaching. It was concluded that the presence of direction-specific activity is not a prerequisite for the emergence of reaching movements. Nevertheless, already from 4 months onwards a better postural control is associated with a larger success and a better quality of reaching.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-656
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • infants
  • motor skills


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