Core and Postural Tone: Myths and Facts
Written by: Cameron O’Reilly
Paediatric Occupational Therapist (BOccThpy)
9th February, 2018
What is core and postural tone?
Muscle tone is the ability of a muscle to resist a force for a period of time. Core and postural tone refers to the muscles surrounding the spine that hold our body upright. But what does this mean for children? How does this effect children within the classroom and does it have anything to do with their handwriting? We first need to look at the human anatomy to understand where the muscles are located.
The core muscles of the human body are located within the abdominal area of our body and postural muscles along the back of the spine. As seen in the picture below, the highlighted muscles are used to support a child’s posture. These muscles must resist gravity and hold the child’s weight when in a seated position.
Other vital core and postural muscles are located in the neck:
As seen above, these particular muscles are located around the neck and maintain an upright head position in conjunction with the trunk and support stability.
Why is core and postural tone functionally important?
One of the most important functions of core and postural muscles is to flex (move trunk forwards), extend (move trunk backwards) and stabilise the spine. These muscles described earlier work against gravity and are continually active to maintain posture. For a child this occurs when seated at the desk, sitting for floor time and when standing in line. This stable base of posture is imperative for ensuring the child is at an adequate height to perform writing tasks. Children lacking core and postural tone may slouch/lay over the table, even placing their head down or stand when completing desk activities. This can greatly effect written work, as sitting in a seated position (as pictured below) is essential for ensuring handwriting mechanics are correct.
During floor time activities, children with low postural tone may appear to lay on the ground or lean/collapse on other nearby children, causing further distraction. As a lack of tone will result in reduced endurance, increased distractibility may occur from being unable to maintain a still seated position. This further compromising exposure to table top activities thereby reducing opportunities for development. As the human body develops from proximal (close) to distal (far), it is important to develop this stable base. As children with reduced core and postural tone often present with reduced muscle tone in other areas of the body (e.g. hands, fingers, arms, legs). This can further lead to difficulty in other areas such as handwriting, sports activities, coordination and self care.
My child does soccer, ballet, netball, gymnastics and swimming how can they have low core?
Extra-curricular activities are great for supporting a child’s physical and social development. However, whilst these activities are beneficial for muscle development, they may not specifically target previously mentioned muscles to the fullest extent. When deficit does occur specifically within core, neck and postural muscles, often extra-curricular activities will be too general and will not provide enough targeted endurance to allow these muscles to meet milestones.
How do we improve core and postural tone in Occupational Therapy?
Intervention within Occupational Therapy targets these muscles directly within fun, active activities to promote engagement of the children. Additional activities can be seen pictured below;
Cannonballs are performed using a gym ball whilst laying with knees together and on elbows with an upright head position. This targets the postural muscles on the front the body/neck.
Supermans are performed by having the child lay on their tummy with head facing forwards with straight legs and adequate height between legs/arms and ground. This targets the postural muscles on the back of the body/neck.
Alongside this, KidsOT therapists are able to provide K-Tape (Kinesio Tape) services to further support development of the muscle. K-Tape is placed at the origin and insertion of the targeted muscle, on top of the muscle body. K-Tape works by providing proprioceptive (muscle to joint) input to extend muscle length to its potential and provide greater awareness of the muscle. K-Tape can also provide further benefits of lifting the skin between skin and muscle to allow for smoother movements and increased blood flow causing improved muscle repair.
If you have any concerns about your child’s core and postural tone, give our team a call and we’ll be happy to see how we can help.
- A systematic review of the effectiveness of kinesio taping for musculoskeletal injury. Phys Sportsmed. 2012 Nov;40(4):33-40. doi: 10.3810/psm.2012.11.1986.
- A systematic review of the effectiveness of Kinesio Taping–fact or fashion? Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2013 Oct;49(5):699-709. Epub 2013 Apr 5.
- Brookbush, B. (2017). Kinesiology of the Trunk. Retrieved from Brookbush Insitute: https://brentbrookbush.com/articles/anatomy-articles/introduction-to-functional-anatomy/kinesiology-of-the-trunk/
- Liebman, H. L. (2013). Anatomy of Core Stability. Heatherton: Hinkley Books.