Ask an OT: What is HEAVY WORK?

February 17, 2020
Ask an OT: What is HEAVY WORK?

All children, especially those with sensory differences can benefit from proprioceptive input to support the development of their body awareness and motor skills. Doing heavy work activities or providing deep pressure to the muscles and joints is what we call proprioceptive input. Any activity that involves pulling, pushing, lifting, carrying, crawling, jumping, hanging, wrestling and crashing is considered as heavy work. Deep pressure on the other hand can be provided by massage, weighted blankets, bear hugs, weighted vests or using the brushing protocol.  

Certain amounts and types of input and activity are required to keep our nervous system alert, functional and regulated. Some children may be bothered by seams in their socks, tags on their clothes, hair or nail cutting, and/or are constantly fidgeting.

Other children may appear withdrawn, avoidant of tasks, and/or have low energy. Ironically heavy work activities can be both calming and alerting and support both types of children based on their individual needs. 

Proprioceptive input through heavy work or deep pressure can increase our body awareness. It also helps us to attend to what is important with an appropriate level of arousal, for example, to be able to play a game or to sit in class. Heavy work activities that are completed for approximately 20-30 minutes can last up to two hours, which in turn supports regulation. However, remember just like we need meals and snacks throughout the day, so too, we need heavy work/ deep pressure activities. 

Some examples of heavy work or deep pressure activities include: 

  • Jumping on the trampoline 
  • Playing tug of war (use the bath towel and add this to the bath-time routine) 
  • Animal Walks, for example, frog jumps, bear crawls, crab walk, snake slither 
  • ‘Make the room bigger’ by pushing against the walls using two hands (without locking elbows) – try all the walls! 
  • Turn the child into a sandwich/burrito using their favourite ingredients – firmly press on the child’s arms, legs and back with using different balls or cushions and/or roll them up in a blanket. 
  • Carry a backpack with toys/books (not too heavy!) 
  • Hand out books in the classroom  
  • Push/carry toys from one side of the room/house to the other using your hands or a wagon 
  • Build a fort 
  • Sit on a beanbag 
  • Pull laundry out of the washing machine 
  • Sweep, vacuum or mop the floor 

…………Use your imagination… the activities are endless!