Down's Syndrome and Physiotherapy

Down's Syndrome affects about one in every 1000 babies born in the UK and occurs when an individual has a full or a partial extra chromosome 21, altering the way in which they develop and causing that individual to display particular characteristics specific to this genetic condition. The additional genetic material alters the course of normal development for that individual who then displays certain features associated with this condition such as small stature, reduced muscle tone, upward slanting eyes and developmental delay, though each individual with Down's Syndrome will have varying degrees of such features specific to them and their own remaining genetic makeup.

Downs SyndromeIn terms of how their motor skills such as crawling, sitting and walking develop, children with Down's Syndrome generally learn to do these functional activities much slower than other children because of the impact of the condition on their musculoskeletal system. Lower muscle tone, ligament laxity, poor core stability and overall muscle strength all affect the way in which their limbs can support their bodies in certain positions causing them to be less stable in sitting and weight bearing, making it hard for them to get around and move from posture to posture. Although they want to progress physically, their bodies are unable to facilitate these movements within the timeframe of normal recognised developmental stages, and these children will often develop compensations in order to get around, generally taking longer to achieve their physical milestones.

Physiotherapy for children with Down's Syndrome can be extremely useful in supporting their physical development, facilitating their movements with specific exercises and through core stability work to help with optimal posture and lower limb alignment. This can help them to develop their physical capabilities more efficiently as they grow, not by forcing skills to develop faster or by pushing them to achieve their milestones earlier, but by recognising which skills and abilities are emerging and harnessing those with individualised exercises and play to optimise their development. To determine the type of therapy appropriate to each child, a physiotherapist would look not just at what that child can do physically, but also at the way in which they behave and respond to stimuli and their environment, painting a picture of their overall nature and thought process. As each child is unique in their own makeup, physiotherapy programmes and approaches need to be specific to each child. Essentially, if therapy plays to their strengths and uses their preferred activities, a child can build on these more agreeably and enjoy their physiotherapy sessions, rather than allowing the frustration of not being able to manage something get in the way of progress and potential.

Children who have Down's Syndrome need customised therapy programmes in a relaxed and supportive environment where they feel comfortable and confident, and are motivated by something they enjoy rather than something that feels like too much of a frustrating challenge. For this reason, some children may prefer to be seen in their own home or school where things are familiar, rather than a clinical environment that they don't recognise. We can provide home or school-based assessments and therapy sessions to support the needs of each child, and to ensure the key people in their lives such as parents, carers and teachers can be involved in their therapy.


If your child has Down's Syndrome and you think they would benefit from some physiotherapy input to help their movement and strength to develop, feel free to get in touch with us to chat about things in more detail.

To arrange an appointment or to speak to one of our team, please contact our Clinical Director Sarah Joice on 07908 684441. You can also email us at info@yorkshirechildrensphysiotherapy.co.uk

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