Development of a kinematic coordination pattern in toddler locomotion: planar covariation
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The purpose of this study is to analyze the coordination patterns of the elevation angles of lower limb segments following the onset of unsupported walking in children and to look for the existence of a planar covariation rule as previously described in adult human locomotion. The kinematic patterns of locomotion were recorded in 21 children (11–144 months of age) and 19 adults. In 4 children we monitored the very first unsupported steps. The extent to which the covariation of thigh, shank, and foot angles was constrained on a plane in 3D space was assessed by means of orthogonal regression and statistically quantified by means of principal component analysis. The orientation of the covariation plane of the children was compared with the mean value of the adults' plane. Trunk stability with respect to the vertical was assessed in both the frontal (roll) and sagittal (pitch) planes. The evolution with walking experience of the plane orientation and trunk oscillations demonstrated biexponential profiles with a relatively fast time constant (<6 months after the onset of unsupported locomotion) followed by a much slower progression toward adult values. The initial fast changes of these walking parameters did not parallel the slow, monotonic maturation of anthropometric parameters. The early emergence of the covariation plane orientation and its correlation with trunk vertical stability reflect the dynamic integration of postural equilibrium and forward propulsion in a gravity-centered frame. The results support the view that the planar covariation reflects a coordinated, centrally controlled behavior, in addition to biomechanical constraints. The refinement of the planar covariation while morphological variables drastically change as the child grows implies a continuous update of the neural command.
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