What are Gross Motor Skills and Fine Motor Skills?

We hear lots of these terms flying around when you are around kids. Milestones, motor skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills….

What are they, and why do they matter for you and from a Physiotherapists perspective? Our Oakville Physio Kristina will delve deeper into these topics here!

What are motor skills?

Motor skills are learned movement patterns, which are the result of the brain, nervous system and muscles all working together. Most motor skills are marked by certain childhood milestones. 

What are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills are bigger movements that don’t require a lot of finesse. They are performed by bigger muscles working together, such as the muscles in the arms, legs, and trunk. Crawling, balancing, walking and jumping are examples of locomotor gross motor skills.

Catching, throwing, and kicking are examples of object-control gross motor skills.

What are fine motor skills?

Fine motor skills are smaller movements that require more precision and refinement. They are performed by smaller muscles, such as the muscles of the hands, fingers and toes, or the lips and tongue while speaking. For example, picking up small objects, using cutlery, writing, cutting with scissors, drawing or playing the piano, etc.

Interestingly, the development of fine motor skills are supported by having a strong core as well as muscles close to the torso. Having shoulders, hips, back and chest strength and endurance helps provide a stable base of support to operate your smaller muscles off of.

Boy growing shoing physio to kids, massage, foot clinic, wart treatment

What are motor milestones?

Motor milestones are the major developmental tasks that are learned during a specific time of development. They are usually tracked by regular pediatrician appointments with your baby. 

For example, pulling up to stand and cruising the furniture are gross motor skills usually achieved at 10-12 months. Using the thumb and index finger to pick up small objects are fine motor skills usually achieved at 10-12 months.

There are other types of milestones, such as sensory, communication, and feeding milestones. 

Motor milestone logically lead into other tasks. For example tummy time and propped tummy time helps strengthen the back of the neck and shoulders. This helps progress to four point point positions. Four point positions (hands and knees) helps strengthen the muscles around the core, hips and shoulder girdle. Reaching in four point positions helps transition to crawling.

What is the role of Physiotherapy in motor skills?

Children can be delayed in the learning of certain motor skills due to a variety of reasons.

For example, developmental coordination disorder (DCD). As the preschool years (ages 3-5) are often a critical period for learning certain motor skills, if your child is having difficulties, it is best to address them early on to avoid further delays later on. 

Your chips teacher may mention that they have concerns with how your child moves. You may even notice when they are playing with other children their age that they are not matching up with regards to running, jumping and ball skills.

Additionally, after injury at any age, certain motor skills may need to be relearned or refined. For example, returning to regular activity after a fracture. Restoring strength, range of motion, proprioception, speed, endurance, as well as the appropriate movement patterns is a part of that.

Physiotherapy for a child can provide specific rehabilitation exercises and strategies to help develop, relearn, or refine the lacking or delayed motor skills. If there are physical impediments that are contributing to motor skills issues, they can be addressed in physiotherapy through manual therapy, modalities, bracing, gait aids, and/or other devices.

Keep in mind that learning fine motor skills does not translate into learning gross motor skills and vice versa. Progress in one area does not guarantee progress in another. If a child or adult is struggling with a particular set of motor skills, they may need more specialized exercises and strategies to address these difficulties. 

Here at Oakville’s Palermo Physiotherapy and Wellness we treat ages zero and up when it comes to motor skills!