As parents, we hear the importance of providing your newborn with tummy time from your pediatrician or healthcare provider. Tummy time helps develop core strength and coordination. Well, we also are finding that tummy time is pivotal in the development of the fingers and stability in the hand within the first six weeks of life.
There are various development stages of the hand for a newborn. First, a newborn holds a clenched fist; within the next few weeks the tension in the grip lessens; and lastly the hands and fingers spread ready to begin touching and grasping. Watch a newborn and you will be fascinated by the fingers and toes flexing and extending nonstop.
This tight fist grasp is commonly referred to as the Palmer Grasp Reflex, which is supposed to disappear by 6 months. This infant grasp is too strong for fine motor control and purposeful grasp to occur.
The initial stages of grasp revolve around the stabilization of the thumb. At birth the thumb is held tight within the fist. As the base section of the thumb develops, stability from pushing against the floor, the thumb rotates around to its proper position at the side of the palm. This rotational stability sets up the foundation for two key aspects of grasp—the opposable thumb and the lateral arch which enables curvature of the palm.
The position of the thumb was the subject of a study at the Technion Institute of Technology, Israel, published in the March 2000 edition of Pediatrics. In 125 infants (62.5%) of the total study population, a TIF (Thumb In Fist) was noted. The mean age of disappearance was 1.5 months, and no TIF persisted after 7 months old. The TIF posture in infancy was noted in 65% in this study of 200 apparently healthy full-term newborn infants, and it had resolved in all of these infants by 7 months old. Therefore, a TIF posture after this age should alert the clinician to the possibility of possible neurological dysfunction.
Development of the refined finger function corresponds to the stabilization development in each finger segment which occurs primarily from pushing against the ground. As stability builds, so does the ability for the hand to begin grasping objects. Toddlers explore the world using their fingers and, in the process, refine the many highly specialized tasks their fingers must master.
Individuals who have difficulty with functional grasp patterns (there are many!) can still get help. There are myriad adaptive devices currently available (consult an Occupational Therapist for specific recommendations). We also find that the Kinetic Bridging™ method is particularly effective in reconnecting missing stability in the thumb and fingers in just a few sessions.
Furthermore, we observed that the stability of the hand also relates to one’s handwriting. We explore that topic next month, along with my own experience on how the Kinetic Bridging Method has helped me with my handwriting, even as an adult.