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Neural Plasticity
Volume 12 (2005), Issue 2-3, Pages 99-108

Development of Postural Control During the First 18 Months of Life

Department of Neurology, Developmental Neurology, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

Copyright © 2005 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The present paper reviews the development of postural adjustments during infancy. In the control of posture, two functional levels can be distinguished. The basic level deals with the generation of direction-specific adjustments meaning that dorsal muscles are primarily activated when the body sways forward, whereas ventral muscles are primarily activated when the body sways backward. The second level is involved in adaptation of the direction-specific adjustments. Postural development starts with a repertoire of direction-specific adjustments suggesting that the basic level of control has an innate origin. At first, during the phase of primary variability, postural activity is largely variable and can be minimally adapted to environmental constraints. At 3 months, postural activity shows a transient period during which few postural muscles participate in postural activity. From 6 months onward, the phase of secondary variability starts, during which the second level of postural control becomes functionally active and infants develop the ability to adapt postural activity to the specifics of the situation. Initially, adaptation can be accomplished in a simple way only, but from 9–10 months onward, it can be performed by the subtle adaptation of the degree of muscle contraction. Around 13–14 months, anticipatory postural adjustments emerge. It is concluded that the development of postural adjustments is characterized by four periods of transition occurring at the ages of 3, 6, 9-10, and 13-14 months. The major transition occurs at 6 months, when infants move from the phase of non-adaptive, primary variability to the phase of adaptive, secondary variability.