Since Spring is a time of growing I thought I’d talk a little bit about kids and growth spurts. Many of you may remember your adolescent years when all of a sudden you seemed to be all arms and legs and were tripping over your own feet. Well that was because your body grew a lot in a short amount of time and it hadn’t caught up to where everything was again. We take in information all the time that tells us where our body is so that we can move through the world. Three ways we take in information is through our vision, our vestibular system and proprioception. The quick version of vestibular is our inner ear that keeps track of where our head is and sends messages to the brain. When you go on spinning rides or spin yourself around until you are dizzy that is the system that you are sending information to. Proprioception is information that comes through our joints and muscle attachments that tell about where parts of your body are at any given time.
When a child grows they need to adapt to their new size and this involves recalibrating the information receptors that are passing signals on to the brain. Generally this happens in a fairly short amount of time and doesn’t cause too many problems. For kids who are already having challenges moving it is important to keep them moving and practicing skills (even if they already know how to do them) so that their body can begin to make the adaptions to their new size. Without practice they run the risk of regressing and having difficulty with a skill (such as walking) that they may have already mastered.
In addition to having trouble with proprioceptive information you may see some more tight muscles. When they grow the muscles stretch and if they have a tendency to be tight or had been tight in the past then they may get tight again. Although stretching is important all the time it can become even more critical during periods of growth so that they don’t lose range of motion. You may want to consider talking to your physical or occupational therapist about ways to help maintain range of motion during these times of growth so that you aren’t spending your whole day stretching. Maybe its using a stander or getting creative with sitting options so that your child doesn’t even realize they are being stretched!
Lastly, for kids who have underlying weakness or who have to work to maintain strength, its critical to work with them during their growth spurts because they will appear weaker due to the new length of their muscles and they bodies. For kids who are working and ‘strengthening’ on a regular basis they can generally prevent major losses in strength or get the strength back much quicker than kids who have not been receiving active therapy or doing a regular home exercise program.
Basically, the take away is to pay attention to if your child is growing because you may see some changes in their abilities to perform skills and movements that you thought they had already achieved!