4 Surprising Brain Benefits of Crawling

Dear Readers,

All of our clients have one thing in common… they have been born. Yes, silly truism, but I bring this up for a reason. A few times a year I am approached by prospective parents who ask me, “What can we do to set our future child up for success?” I often explore the topics previously engaged in this blog. Today, however, I would like to have an expert who works with infants and toddlers much younger than our clientele speak more directly to those prospective parents.

Dr. Trish Gallant, DPT is a practicing physical therapist owner of Gallant Physical Therapy, a private practice in Queen Anne. She is a board-certified orthopedic specialist with extensive experience treating orthopedic and neuromuscular conditions across the lifespan. She has a passion for helping all her patients, even the youngest, lead active lives.

If the goal is to support the development of our child’s writing, reading, note-taking, and creative problem-solving abilities, Trish Gallant has some thoughts about one of the earliest skills a child can learn.


Greg Smith

A baby crawling

Crawling is one of the earliest ways we move as humans. Who knew that the patterns we use to crawl are the same patterns we carry for other skills for the rest of our lives? In the last two decades, research has shown babies crawl later and later (and for less total time) than ever before.  Despite this, PTs and OTs will note that crawling is the most important milestone. We now understand that crawling in infancy and early childhood has a tremendous impact on four developing systems and should not be overlooked in lieu of other milestones.

1. Gross Motor + Preparing for Upright Posture

Crawling is a total-body workout that it’s no surprise that crawling activities are making their way into all the celebrity workout routines. The entire body during crawling must remain engaged (called “co-contraction”) so it makes for an easy and efficient workout at any age. The midline axis between the joints of the hips and shoulders should rotate opposite to each other. In infancy, this causes torsion in the baby’s spine leading to strengthening and modeling of the structures of the spinal column, preparing their spine for correct posture later.

2. Fine Motor + Function 

Crawling supports changes in your baby’s hands, including lengthening the long finger muscles, developing hand arches, and separating the hand into a skilled side (thumb and first two fingers) and a stabilizing side (ring finger and pinky). These changes prepare her to use his hands and fingers for endless fine-motor tasks like manipulating toys, writing, and tying shoes.

3. Vision

Crawling assists with the brain’s development of binocular vision, which means that the eyes can work together, which is necessary for correct visual processing- especially if you want to see without getting dizzy or a headache!  While crawling, babies first look into the distance to focus on an object and then back at their hands to start crawling.  This requires eyes to adjust and focus at different distances.  This further develops cooperation between brain hemispheres and helps the eyes with reading and writing, which later comes into play in the classroom setting.

4. Brain Development to Last a Lifetime

Most importantly, crawling allows us to create connections between both sides of the brain. This has implications from improving reading ability to sports performance. Motor nerve signals to the extremities originate in each side of the brain cortex and cross in the brain stem in an area called the corpus callosum to supply required motor activity to the opposite extremity. This means that when a baby crawls, their brains learn how to interchange this information very fast! What makes this incredible is that these same patterns, or neurological routes, are the same that later in life will be used to perform more difficult tasks, such as walking, running, passing one object from one hand to the other, or even taking notes in a class while listening to the teacher.

One of the most asked questions I get from parents is “When do we stop worrying about crawling and just move to work on walking?”.  My answer is a resounding, “Never!” I hope there’s room for me on the celebrity-workout train as well … because crawling is the exercise that keeps on giving.

To learn more about Dr. Gallant’s work, please visit GallantPhysicalTherapy.com or email trish@gallantphysicaltherapy.com.

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