Physical Therapy News Letter March 17, 2014

Reimagining Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that involves an extra, critical portion of chromosome 21 present in all or some of their cells.  This additional genetic material alters the course of development for the individual.

Every individual with Down syndrome has unique symptoms to varying degrees. These include, but are not limited to, decreased muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm.

The goal of physical therapy

The objective of physical therapy for children with Down syndrome is to help control and manage the compensatory mechanisms that arise as a result of muscle deficits.

A physical therapist will evaluate the function of the joints, muscles and posture in children and create an intervention plan to help the child integrate into society. Children with Down syndrome exhibit a range of comprehension delays and physical movement deficits, from very mild to severe.

A Better Quality of Life

Thanks to advances in medicine and the increasing role of physical therapy, individuals with Down syndrome are living a higher quality of life. Taking a child’s temperament into consideration, a physical therapist will start with simple, enjoyable activities before progressing to complex movements as the child’s motivation level and capabilities improve.

Compensatory mechanisms for ‘gross movements’ like walking are common. A physical therapist will improve posture by breaking down movements into small components and helping the child achieve mastery of the individual components. The unique learning style and physical attributes of the child are taken into consideration. Repetition and rest are balanced under the expert supervision of the physical therapist. Over time, children can achieve independent motion with minimal compensations.

Core stabilization is an important aspect of physical therapy. A reduction in muscle tone combined with laxity of ligaments can result in a condition called kyphosis where the spine is curved forwards. If left untreated, it can result in a permanent deformity in the back. Restoring and improving alignment of the spine with core stabilization exercises improves balance. It also enables children to walk comfortably.

Don’t Let This Bring You ‘Down’

A physical therapist will teach the child new skills in a pleasant, progressive environment. A great way to teach new skills is to position them as games and group activities. Once a child has accepted the game, the difficulty is gradually increased while the support is reduced. Once a child gains confidence, clarity and control, independence is encouraged. The objective is to help the child master movements independently, over a period of time.

Physical therapy treatment of Down syndrome requires a great deal of patient and understanding. A slow, gradual change and a supportive social environment is the cornerstone of progress for children with Down syndrome. Speaking of patience, that’s what we do as physical therapists. We can assist you no matter what physical limitation or discomfort you have, and will assist you to regain full function. We’ll spend as much time as it takes to make sure you get better. You are important to us, and we appreciate the opportunity to help you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us, and don’t let anything bring you down. After all, we are here for you and together; we can improve your quality of life.