Righting reactions are an important part of balance and postural control and they begin developing as soon as the baby is born and they have to move in an environment influenced by gravity! We have talked about when babies have postural preferences or movement asymmetries and this post will also address how they can affect righting reactions. We also talk a little bit about righting in grading muscle control so you may see some similarities!
So, righting reactions help to keep us in midline. When our body feels like we are moving away from midline, a message gets sent to our muscles to have them turn on in order to come back to midline or prevent the movement. In the beginning babies have to learn how to interpret this signal, and they have to have the strength to be able to correct any shifts away. As you can see in the video above, if you give them time and support they can get the message and then begin to correct. (you may need to help them if they aren’t strong enough) Strength develops every time they move their body, especially against gravity. Or even if they just try to maintain a position against gravity to prevent in movement. Lots of practice with this helps them to develop their muscle strength.
You can practice this with your child in various positions. We show sitting and lying on the belly but you could also do standing and lying on the back. Smaller slower movements are easier for them to react to in the beginning because it gives enough time for the messages to get sent throughout the body. Also, stopping the movement before they go too far away from midline allows them to correct without having to put as much energy and effort into it.
By changing the amount of support I provide and by adjusting where they are in relation to gravity can make it easier or harder for them. Always start easier and move to harder as they have some success.
When there is a postural preference such as the left tilt/lean with this guy, you will see a more reactive left response and a slower right response. This is because the points of midline are shifted. So all it takes is a little movement away from the left for the messages to go flying whereas it takes a larger movement on the right. Add to that the fact that the left muscles are more primed and the muscles react easier than the right which are on a stretched or lengthened position. So you can adapt by having them hang out ‘skewed’ to one side. For instance we will sit as if we are on a slope or hill with our right side pointing uphill in order for the right muscles to get more work in and start to re-align midline for the receptors.
It doesn’t happen overnight but practicing a little every day makes a difference!