Paediatric Service – The complex art of WALKING


As a paediatric physiotherapist I am often asked different questions about  walking….. When will my child walk? Is my child’s walking pattern normal? Should I be concerned if they’re not walking yet? The questions go on….

So let’s start with a quote….” 4 legs is good, 2 legs is better”. … I’ll let you ponder on that.

Medically yes, it’s more efficient for a human to walk on 2 legs than 4 as we use far less energy, it’s ‘the norm’ in society, it’s what differentiates a baby from a toddler and a child from an adult (to a degree). But, and just consider this. If you had no other way of getting around 4 legs is ultimately better than 0…what your baby has achieved by getting around on 4 legs or bum shuffling up until this point is pretty amazing.

But back to answering your questions about walking…

Walking is something we ‘just do’.  We don’t think about it, we don’t remember learning how to do it. We just do it. Mostly. However walking is actually an incredibly complex task and takes so much thought and control so it’s no wonder that sometimes it can take longer to learn.

There are very few other animals on the planet that have the balance to be able to stand on 2 legs. The fact that children are able to achieve this in the first few years of their life is an achievement in itself. Never mind how quickly it takes them.

When we look at the complexities required in actually achieving the task of merely standing upright it is no wonder it takes us so long to master a natural, mature looking walk. It is also no wonder that some children find it harder and therefore may take longer to learn and mature these skills.

So this blog aims to answer a few questions you, as parents/carers, may have…

When is my child ready to learn to walk?

So ‘when should my child learn to walk?’ Prepare yourselves as you’ll of heard this same reply from every medical professional you meet (and I know it’s incredibly frustrating). ‘Every child is different’… which yes is true, your child is unique, they not simply little versions of you and if you have other children, you’ll know that they don’t all do the same things at the same times at the same speed.

However, that said there are guidelines, otherwise known as ‘milestones’, you know the ones…

…. They’ll roll at 5 months, sit at 6 months, walk by 15 months … but is it really that simple? No… it’s something that has been mathematically calculated as the modal timing for each of these tasks and now it’s what we are made to believe is pure-gold.

So what makes it so hard?

In order to walk, without getting ridiculously technical, you need to have not only acquired but also mastered a number of different skills.

  1. Alternate kicking on their back (typically this is learnt during fetal development in the womb and then intensified once born)
  2. Core strength (this is first learnt when children play with their toes)
  3. Weight shift (shifting weight from left to right)
  4. Dissociation (knowing and moving your left side separately to your right side of your body e.g. touching your left leg with your right hand)
  5. Rotation (learnt through rolling and turning away from a surface)
  6. Balance
  7. Coordination

And even once your child has mastered all these skills they still take time to transition from walking like a waddling duck to walking with confidence and purpose.

So PLEASE, don’t panic, if your child reaches 15 months and you’re in a play group looking around and little bobby of 12 months has started to take a few steps, Abi another baby at 14 months is walking confidently (Albeit falling a lot!) and your Jonny is still ‘happy as Larry’ playing on his hands and knees. This is NORMAL,some children do just take a little more time to practice a complex skill.

After all, a lot of skill and energy is needed to transition from 4 legs to 2 legs and make it look easy! It may be they need a little bit more guidance, help and PRACTICE! If you also want a little advice on how to guide them along the way, or if  your child is not showing an interest in walking by around 18 months we would love to help. Do not hesitate to give us a call and awe will soon help you and your littlun figure it out.

Check in next week to read our next walking blog which will covers the variations in walking which come with age, weight and growth.


Contact the Back & Body Clinic today on 01604 493066.

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