Ohio State University LogoA study which was conducted at the Ohio State University claimed that preterm infants who receive leg movement training seem to exhibit feet-reaching behaviors similar to that of full-term infants.

It was observed that previous studies have shown that full-term infants make contact with toys with the help of their feet before reaching with their hands. Additionally, studies have shown that movement training may advance feet reaching in full-term infants.

Apparently, certain populations of preterm infants are known to be delayed in hand reaching. However, no studies are believed to have examined at feet-reaching in preterm infants.

Lead author of the study, Jill C. Heathcock, PT, PhD, assistant professor in the Division of Physical Therapy at Ohio State University, mentions “The presence of feet reaching and a positive training effect in this population would suggest a novel and easily implemented intervention strategy to encourage early object interaction in infants with special needs,”

During this study, nearly 27 preterm infants who were born at less than 33 weeks of gestational age and weighed less than 5 lbs 8 oz were noted to have been received either movement training or social training by their caregivers. This training was given for about 5 days a week for approximately 8 weeks.

Apparently, movement training consisted of three feet games that include general leg movement, moving the leg across the midline of the body, and distinct leg movements. The distinct leg movements appear to include movements such as holding an infant’s hip at 90 degrees and encouraging knee motion in order to contact the toy with the foot.

It was believed that caregivers of infants in the social training group placed their infant supine on the floor and sat near the infant’s feet. Furthermore, they seem to have interacted with their infant visually and verbally, but did not touch or give objects to their infant.

During this 8-week training period, all infants were observed to have been tested and videotaped for a total of five sessions. Also, infants were seated in a custom-made chair with a strap placed around the chest thereby allowing for free movement of the arms and legs. A toy was then presented to the infant at his or her midline at hip height for approximately 30 seconds. After each trial, the toy seemed to have been removed from the infant’s view and then repositioned in the midline for the next trial.

Heathcock further continued, “Our results suggest that preterm infants display a new and potentially important ability to contact objects with their feet before their hands. This finding, coupled with a positive effect of training, provides clinicians with a new intervention strategy for encouraging object interaction within the first months of life in infants at risk for long-term motor impairments.”

The study experts found that both groups of infants seem to have showed an equal number of foot-toy contacts over each session. However, infants in the movement training group appeared to have out-performed infants in the social training group over time as well as during the last session.

The findings of the study could possibly support feet-reaching play as an early intervention strategy. This was mainly to encourage interaction with physical objects in preterm infants who seem to experience movement problems within the first months of postnatal life.

The findings of the study have been published in the scientific journal of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Physical Therapy. (PTJ).