Upper Extremity Weigh Bearing for Kids: the What, Why, and How

Weight bearing is exactly what it sounds like, supporting the body’s weight through the extremities. While kids are frequently standing, walking and running, putting pressure through their legs, it’s also very important not to forget to incorporate weight bearing for the arms.

Upper extremity weight bearing, what why and how

By engaging in weight bearing activities through the arms, children strengthen their hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and even neck and core muscles. Strong proximal muscles also allow for children to have better control of their distal muscles, which is necessary for fine motor coordination.

In this day and age of increased technology use, younger generations are demonstrating weaker grip strength as compared to older generations2. Yet, school aged children are expected to meet the demands of academic expectations including efficient and legible handwriting. Encouraging children to engage their arms in strengthening activities early on can help set the stage to increased success with later motor skills, including handwriting.

Weight bearing activities also provide awareness into the joints– this is known as proprioceptive input and in addition to providing information about the body’s position in space, it also has an impact on a child’s state of arousal, as in how alert or calm they are. For more information on proprioception, check out this article.

To incorporate weight bearing throughout the day, try to encourage kids to participate in some of these activities that have the above-mentioned benefits and more:

animal walks for UE weight bearing

Try animal walks, such as walking on hands and feet like a bear, crab walking, etc.  Find a few more examples and two free gross motor animal walk game printables here.

Stretches, push-ups, planks and yoga poses that use different positions to put weight through outstretched arms, such as downward dog.

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Bring it to the floor. Puzzles, crafts, toys can all be played with on the floor. Encourage kids to weight bear on their arms to reach for toys and manipulate items. This also helps with dissociating the different sides of the body and crossing midline, and encourages bilateral coordination skills.  Crawling while pushing a toy car, truck, or boat along the floor is a fun one for toddlers.

Obstacle courses that encourage crawling and climbing are a great way to exercise the entire body, including the arms, legs and core. Try to be creative with it, including obstacles to climb over or under, such as a tunnel, over couch cushions, or through a tent. My kids love crawling through our homemade car wash box.

scooter board

Use a Scooter board! Use both arms to propel forward while lying on the board. You can make it more challenging by creating obstacle course or scooter board races with a friend.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day1. Of this one hour or more, activities should include aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening activities. Weight bearing activities fall into the muscle strengthening category for children, and it could also lead to bone strengthening (such as when jumping or hoping is incorporated) and aerobic activity as well depending on the nature of the activity.

Get those kids moving, and have fun with it!

References:

  1. “How much physical activity do children need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 June 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm.
  2.  Fain, E. & Weatherford, C. (2016). Comparative study of millenials’ (aged 20-34 years) grip and lateral pinch with the norms. Journal of Hand Therapy Oct-Dec 29(4). pp.483-488.

*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.

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DIY Cardboard Box Carwash

My son (once again) said, “Maybe go to the carwash today.”

OT mom said, “Instead, let’s play car wash!”

DIY CardboardCarwash Toy

My son’s current obsession is anything carwash. Just about everyday, he asks if we can go to the carwash when we are out running errands. His love for playing carwash inspired my latest activity idea: a fun, DIY crawl through car wash!

The kids can play with this several ways: by actually pretending they are the “cars” or using it to wash their big toy cars and trucks by pushing them through. It has proven to be extremely entertaining for their busy minds, and in addition to the great imagination and pretend play engagement it promotes, there are additional hidden benefits as well.

Super Fun & Easy

Crawling through the tunnel gives my kids a dose of proprioceptive input, which can do wonders for regulating the sensory system. Click here to learn more about proprioceptive input.

By weight bearing on extended arms during crawling, it also provides strengthening for the shoulders, arms, core, and even the muscles of the hands. Putting weight through open hands strengthens the arches in the hands- which will be important for the development of handwriting and other fine motor skills.

While pushing cars through the car wash tunnel, you may notice a child using one hand on the ground to stabilize, and the other hand to push the car through. This promotes dissociation of the two sides of the body and allows for practice with crossing midline and bilateral coordination skills. 

DIY

My son didn’t play with the car wash the same way the whole time this evening. He tried to wash his wagon, his truck, and he pretended to be the car. By moving his body (and toys) through the makeshift car wash, he had the opportunity to work on his motor planning  and praxis skills. The development of such skills relies on using novelty in movement sequences.

But the list goes on… we made our car wash “scrubbers,” as my son calls them, brightly colored and slightly different fabrics, so my daughter enjoyed the tactile discrimination aspect of playing with the wash. We added an “open” and “closed” sign for fun (and it stayed open all evening).  I was pleasantly surprised with my kids’ ability to take turns moving through the car wash and sharing their space- a thing I think most siblings have trouble with.

The bonus was that I didn’t spend a penny on this project- I used scrap fabric and a leftover moving box. It feels good to save money and reuse old items.

So here’s how I made it:

box steps 1

I  started with an extra large moving box, with one end taped. Using a utility knife, I cut off the flaps from one side. (Please use caution with the utility knife).

Next, cut out a door for each side. Above the door, cut small holes about 1/2 an inch above the doorway.  I didn’t measure initially, I just eyeballed the size based on the size of my kids and their toys. It turned out to be  about 14 inches wide and just over 17 inches high.

DIY carwash

I used fabric strips to make the “scrubbers” (I had some leftover from another project or you could use scrap clothes, etc). I didn’t measure these initially, but they were about 2-3 inches in width by about 19 inches long.

Once you have your fabric strips, cut a small hole from about 1/2 inch from the end and feed that through a hole in the box. To secure, feed the opposite end of the fabric through the hole and pull snug. Continue until all the holes have scrubbers.

Since kids don’t seem to mind if things aren’t measured perfectly, it was a pretty quick project to complete.

DIY Carwash open

Just for fun I used some scrap cardboard and sticky-back velcro to make an “Open/Close” sign for the carwash. You could easily do this with markers or paint. It’s as easy as that!

If you decide to try this easy, beneficial DIY activity, please remember to keep your kids supervised for this activity!  I’d love to hear how your kids liked it!

DIY-1

*Disclaimer

Please use supervision with this activity, as young children or children with motor skills difficulties may get tangled up in the fabric strips.

The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc)  if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.