KidsBrainTree 

Kids Brain Tree (FoCo) | 3932 John F Kennedy Parkway, Suite 10 F, Fort Collins CO 80525 | +1-970-818-8768

Occupational Therapy at its best

- training the skills for living and learning

In short cardinal movements are important movements.

They are important developmentally speaking. All children need to develop these cardinal movements. If they are not developing particular movements that is a problem that should be addressed.

Getting to them late doesn’t matter. You can get to them late, but if you don’t get to them at all, you will not develop the neural structure required for specific activities. If you do not understand how your body moves in space the chances of you understanding how letters are arranged in space is diminished. Which is important for being able to identify and tell apart ‘b’ and  ‘d’, as well as ‘p’ and ‘q’.

So not knowing that there is a right and a left to you and that you move in space will affect cascades of things that will adversely impact your life.

Cardinal movements should be developed by the time you sit which is around six months old. If you spot things that concern you in the way a baby is moving or developing, you should be trying to deal with it straight away. Don’t wait.



Crawling is a cardinal move. But it’s an integrated movement as well. It’s one of the important ones because it brings together left and right, top and bottom in a coordinated fashion. You need this to be able to do to keep your balance and to be able to see far and near. It impacts vision, for your eyes to be able to come closer and further apart, which affects your ability to read across a page. It affects your ability to keep your arm steady while you’re copying and moving your head. It affects how you ride a bicycle and several components of swimming. This one is a big one.

If every time you turn your head, your right arm goes straight, you’re in trouble. If you’re driving a car at that point, you will veer into traffic. The biggest problem is that it stops you having control over your environment. You don’t have a choice.

Developmentally speaking, primitive reflexes have to first teach you to move then they meld in an appropriate fashion. When correctly done you can have a choice of two responses or three, later on when you experience specific sensations. Like turning your head or walking on uneven surfaces. Hence they become part of the nervous system. The pathway of sensation through muscle contraction still exists, but it’s not an obligatory pathway. Baseball players use the response pathway when their arm straightens to get speed on the ball because it’s a pathway they don’t have to think about to use. You use it when you stand on a tack, your foot jumps up, but you keep balance on the other foot. So your one leg goes straight, and your other one comes up. They are safety mechanisms. They “run” as it were and they are there forever.  They do not disappear, but the point is that when you’re an adult, they should be there to keep you safe. They provide an unthought through response that you can do immediately if you need it but you should also be able to choose whether you want to use it or not.

Whereas when it’s inappropriate, you can’t choose whether you use it or not. You don’t have a choice; it has to happen. The stimulus/sensation was perceived, and the muscles have to contract.

Is crawling a cardinal move?

The ability of nerves to make different and new connections depending on what they experience. In life, for you to feel a sensation, a nerve has to fire. For you to know what to do with that sensation, that firing nerve has to be connected to a group of muscles, and it needed to go through a process of deciding this is important and/or this isn’t important. You need to respond fast/ slow, and that whole connection piece gives an outcome. Occupational Therapy deals with outcomes, but we also have to deal with input so that we can get a specific outcome. Neuroplasticity allows an OT to control what kind of outcome you get, to change that outcome and to strengthen desired outcomes by influencing any part of the process.

What is a primitive reflex?

What is the problem if primitive reflexes are inappropriately active?

It’s a neurological movement pattern that’s hard-wired into us as biological beings, which causes a specific group of muscles to contract in response to a perceived sensation. The sensation forces a particular group of muscles to contract. For example, if you turn a baby’s head to the side, its arm involuntarily goes straight, and its leg goes straight on the same side, and the other arm bends.  If this is happening after six months old that is a bit of a problem.

There are many of these, and they exist to teach us how to move our muscles once the muscle formed in the womb. They then help us through the birth process and help us move in the air after being in water for nine months. They get us into an upright position for walking and running from a curled ball when we are born.

What are Cardinal Movements?

What is Neuroplasticity?

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