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What is the Motor System?

Constance Simmons
Constance Simmons

The motor system is one division of the central nervous system, which is the body’s control system. the motor system specifically is responsible for voluntary and involuntary movement. It consists of two sub systems: the pyramidal and extrapyramidal. The pyramidal system is responsible for voluntary movements, while the extrapyramidal system controls involuntary movements.

The primary motor cortex is a part of the brain that is located near the back of the frontal lobe. It is important to the motor system because it helps to coordinate movements. The primary motor cortex is connected to the spinal cord by motoneurons called Betz cells. Being connected to the spinal cord enables it to then send signals to muscles.

Playing a guitar uses fine motor skills.
Playing a guitar uses fine motor skills.

Human movements are guided by senses. In many cases, before a movement happens, something must happen outside the body to signal it. This is how nerves are essential to the motor system. They help the body sense the outside world, which then determines appropriate movements.

Motor skills are an important aspect of the motor system. They continue developing throughout a person's lifespan. When babies are born, they have little control over their movements, but as they age and the motor system develops, they begin to master the two different types of motor skills, gross and fine.

Damage to the brain can cause motor dysfunction.
Damage to the brain can cause motor dysfunction.

Gross motor skills are those that use large muscles. Examples of gross motor skills include walking, running, and balancing. These skills are developed in later childhood. Fine motor skills use smaller muscle groups. These include activities such as texting on a phone or playing the guitar.

The different parts of the motor system are interconnected. Fine and gross motor skills are an example of this connection. Before mastering fine motor skills, gross motor skills must be developed. For example, before a child can swing a baseball bat, he must be able to stand upright and balance himself.

The nervous system is a crucial part of the motor system.
The nervous system is a crucial part of the motor system.

Motor dysfunction occurs when there is a malfunction in some part of the motor system. This can include damage to the brain, spinal cord, nerves, or muscles. Damage can occur as a result of trauma or genetics. Cerebral palsy is an example of a condition that causes motor dysfunction. Individuals with cerebral palsy cannot control their body movements because of damage to the brain due to trauma or genetic abnormalities. Another of the genetic contributors to motor dysfunction is Down syndrome, which causes decreased muscle tone and, therefore, a decreased ability to control the body.

Discussion Comments


Back to the genetics and fine motor skills, I'm wondering how much someone's motor skills can be improved just by practice. I think there is a certain upper threshold each person has, and it is up to them how much of it they want to maximize.

Using drawing as an example, I think some people are born with the ability to be great drawers, and if they practice, they can reach a maximum that is much higher than normal people. Me on the other hand, I'm confident that even if I practiced drawing for 5 hours a day, every day for a year, I wouldn't come close to being as good as some people naturally are.

I think it is just up to people to figure out what fine motor skills they are able to excel at and maximize their potential in those areas.


@jmc88 - Like the article mentions, gross motor skills involve large groups of muscles, so I can't really think of anything that people wouldn't learn until later in life. I would say running would be the last one people learn.

That being said, even though someone learns the basics of a motor skill, whether it is gross or fine, there are still different levels of proficiency. A kid first learning to run isn't nearly as coordinated as an adult who isn't nearly as coordinated as an Olympic sprinter.

As for fine motor skills, I would say those are much more numerous and a person only learns a select few of those over the course of their lifetime.


@TreeMan - Well, I know a lot of physical characteristics are inherited from parents. Obviously, not every trait will get passed down. I know some athletic people with children who are not good at sports, but I see what you're getting at.

I think some of the gross and fine motor skills would be liked to muscle development in general. Athletic people might have genes that code for stronger muscles that enhance gross motor skills. At the same time, some families might have longer fingers that are more dexterous. It is an interesting concept, though.

What are the last gross motor skills that a person learns? Are there some that not everyone develops or some that are developed relatively late in life?


Out of curiosity, why are the voluntary and involuntary motor systems called pyrimidal and extrapyrimidal?

Besides that, are motor skills linked to genetics to a high extent? For example, it seems like athletic people often have athletic children. Is that because the children have the same genes that give them higher functioning gross motor skills?

Along the same lines, how about fine motor skills? Are some family trees more likely to have people with dexterous fingers?

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    • Playing a guitar uses fine motor skills.
      By: vitmark
      Playing a guitar uses fine motor skills.
    • Damage to the brain can cause motor dysfunction.
      Damage to the brain can cause motor dysfunction.
    • The nervous system is a crucial part of the motor system.
      By: Sebastian Kaulitzki
      The nervous system is a crucial part of the motor system.
    • Balancing is a type of gross motor skill.
      By: LoloStock
      Balancing is a type of gross motor skill.