Research Project Description

The Ability of Young Infants with Spina Bifida to Generate Kicks documents the ability of infants with spina bifida (SB) to kick spontaneously when lying on their backs, seated in conventional infant seats and seated in specially designed infant seats. Kicks and other leg movements strengthen the muscles neural connections that all children need to walk. Infants with SB, the most common neural tube birth defect, seem to acquire new motor skills significantly later than typically developing infants. Most learn to sit at two years of age and walk between three and four, whereas most typically developing infants sit at six months of age and walk at nearly one year.


David Chapman, PT, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of the Doctoral Physical Therapy (DPT)

Jeanna Shirley ’11, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Sarah Meissner ’11, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Kristin Warfield ’11, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Megan Carlson, Doctor of Physical Therapy

This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health EARDA Pilot Project.

Project Title

The Ability of Young Infants with Spina Bifida to Generate Kicks


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Last spring, Dave Chapman, an assistant professor in St. Kate’s Doctoral of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, presented his students with the prospect of collaborating with him on a research project focusing on spina bifida in infants. Jeanna Shirley ‘11 thought the project sounded like a perfect fit for her.

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) student with an interest in pediatrics, Shirley was excited to further research this topic with Chapman and three other DPT students. The study examined the different legs movements and kicks of nine to twelve month old infants with spina bifida when placed in one position over another – lying on their backs, in a conventional infant seat or a specifically designed infant seat. Shirley says, “Previous research has shown infants that move their legs more often generally begin to walk earlier.”

The findings from the research have broader applications and are far reaching, says Shirley. “It’s important as far as educating parents because in the conventional kids’ seats, babies really don’t have the range needed to move and kick their legs. We’re focusing on how these results can be used in the clinic and how physical therapists and parents can use this information.”

This research opportunity has further encouraged Shirley to pursue a career in pediatric physical therapy. She says the project has allowed her to “learn so much about spina bifida and the physical therapy needs for those with the condition.”