Starfish Therapies

June 1, 2012

Anticipatory or Reactionary Balance

Filed under: Developmental Milestones — Starfish Therapies @ 3:54 am
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For the sake of this post I am going to combine the idea of balance and postural control.  They are not exactly the same thing but they are similar in terms of what I am going to talk about.  Most people just think that balance is what keeps us upright.  While yes that is true its amazing how complex it can be. I am going to attempt to keep it simple (hopefully I succeed).

If you are walking down a hall and someone runs by from behind and bumps into you and you don’t lose your balance, you are using reactionary control.  You had no idea it was coming and yet you were able to react to what was happening to you and stay upright.  Maybe you needed to use your hands (protective extension) or take a few steps but you were able to pull together strategies to stay upright and not fall.  Another example of reactionary balance is if you are walking and the ground changes and you weren’t paying attention such as a slight change in height or a change in surface stability.  Your body has to react to stay upright.  This idea applies to whether you are sitting, standing, walking, running, etc. With reactionary the kiddo’s body needs to recognize that its balance has been disturbed and then send out the message to get the correct adjustments being made in just the right amount of time, in just the right sequence and with just the right amount of force (I feel like I’m quoting Goldilocks and the 3 Bears!).

With anticipatory it is when you are about to do something and your body makes the adjustments it needs to in order to stay upright.  For example, whenever I go to the Cheesecake factory they bring out those large water glasses and I go to pick it up, expecting it to be glass and I almost give myself a bath because it is plastic and much lighter than my body had prepared for.  The next time I go to pick it up I have made the necessary adjustments and can pick it up without dousing myself.  Another example is if a kiddo is just learning to crawl and they are figuring out how to move one arm and then the next and then the legs as well, all without falling flat on their face, they are learning the adjustments their body needs to make so that they can anticipate lifting their arm without losing their balance.  Same thing applies to kicking or throwing a ball or reaching for an object or almost anything we do on a daily basis.  With anticipatory the kiddo’s body needs to recognize that something is going to happen that will disturb its balance and make the adjustments before it happens.

What’s interesting is that often anticipatory starts as reactionary (in my experience).  Think about it, lets look at the kiddo I mentioned above who is learning to crawl.  The first time they lift their arm they can’t hold their balance and they fall.  When they try it again they still don’t know what their body needs to do but they know they might fall so they are a little more prepared.  They lift their arm and start to feel themselves falling so they react to this loss of balance and manage to keep their balance.  The next time (ok, I’m speeding up the sequence, it probably takes lots of attempts for each adjustment) they now know they were able to stay up so their body starts to anticipate what will happen when they lift their arm and they are able to lift it and move it to a different spot all while maintaining their balance.  They of course start the whole process over again with each arm or leg they move and then even more so when they try to move the arm and leg together , or go onto a slippery floor instead of carpet.

Hopefully that explanation made sense and you can see how it can apply to almost every movement or task we do throughout our day.

In one of my upcoming posts I’ll talk about some ways to work on balance (anticipatory and reactionary), in the meantime I challenge you to pay attention to when you are using each of the types throughout your day!




  1. […] talked a little bit about anticipatory and reactionary balance in one of my last posts.  In addition to balance and the ability for a kiddo to stay upright, […]

    Pingback by Postural Control « Starfish Therapies — June 4, 2012 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  2. […] after they realized that the square would be moving they were able to start relying on some anticipatory postural control so that they were prepared for the slight […]

    Pingback by ‘Peter Pan’ Scavenger Hunt « Starfish Therapies — February 13, 2013 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  3. […] after they realized that the square would be moving they were able to start relying on some anticipatory postural control so that they were prepared for the slight […]

    Pingback by OT/PT Activity of the Week: ‘Peter Pan’ Scavenger Hunt — February 15, 2013 @ 11:03 pm | Reply

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