Fort Myers physical therapists

FOCUS Physical Therapists Can Help Kids With Down Syndrome Stay Fit, Active & Healthy

Our FOCUS physical therapists have been closely watching and cheering the historic story of 21-year-old Chris Nikic in Panama City, Florida, who recently became the first person with Down syndrome to compete in and finish an Ironman competition. It’s not a feat for the faint of heart, requiring a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2 mile run – all within 17 hours.

“I am going to make history by crushing it,” the Maitland man said before the competition.

And crush it, he did.

“You have shattered barriers while proving without a doubt that Anything is Possible!” Ironman Florida posted on its Facebook page.

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Nikic family photo, published by The Today Show

Nikic later attributed his accomplishment to waking up every morning and committing himself to be 1 percent better than he was the day before.

“I have to work hard and give my best every day,” he said. 

Our FOCUS physical therapists believe in this message 100 percent! We also believe that reaching this level of fitness is much more likely for individuals with Down syndrome with early intervention, address the most common physical health challenges and concerns in early childhood. The sooner we start, the less they have to catch up and the healthier they’ll be.

Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists

FOCUS Fort Myers Pediatric Physical Therapists Dedicated to Top Quality Treatment of Sports Injuries

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." -Vince Lombardi, late American football coach and executive in the National Football League (NFL)

Our Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists know how important sports are to children's development, physical fitness and mental health. That's why we are committed to providing they highest quality care for children who have suffered sports injuries. We understand that while they may get knocked down, it's essential not just to their recovery but their overall well-being that they get back up - and the sooner, the better.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 2.6 million children are treated in hospital emergency departments annually for sports and recreation-related injuries. Recently, one of those was 14-year-old Jett, a local baseball and basketball player in Fort Myers. He suffered a knee injury during one of his practices that sidelined him completely. Emergency department doctors referred him to physical therapy. But his mother, who just happens to be FOCUS Therapy's owner and founder, wasn't going to take him to just any Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists.

"I knew that a physical therapist who mostly sees adults wouldn't necessarily be attuned to the unique needs of a developing athlete," said Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. "But our physical therapists at FOCUS would."

As a speech-language pathologist, Voltz-Ronco knows a thing or two about providing therapy to kids. So when the need arose for physical therapy for her own son, she trusted the team she put in place.

Pediatric Physical Therapist Julie O'Conner virtually oversaw Jett's evaluation and first session with Physical Therapist Assistant Tabitha Baxter. Voltz-Ronco said the experience - as a patient parent rather than provider - was invaluable. She noted that it was great to see how a physical therapist could work well virtually with an assistant (and noted that not every session with physical therapist assistants must be monitored). She watched how, as a caring, professional team, they worked so well together to provide Jett with the best care.

"We treat all of our patients like family, but experiencing this not just as the owner, but also as a parent was so insightful," she said. "It made me even more confident that I hired the most knowledgeable, loving, super-amazing people."

Dr. O'Conner, who has five years of experience treating children, explained that the goal with treating pediatric sports injuries is not to get an athlete simply to the strength and endurance of their typical peers. She wants them to be at their peak level of performance.

"I want him to get to the point again that he can pivot quickly, change direction and bear as much weight as he did before the training," O'Conner said. "So that this doesn't happen again, and he can get back to playing the sports he loves."

FOCUS offers pediatric physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Sports Safety, Key Prevention Tips, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More Blog Entries:

Fort Myers Physical Therapy Tips & Tricks to Prevent & Reduce Toe-Walking, June 8, 2020, Fort Myers Pediatric Physical Therapists Blog

Fort Myers physical therapy

Fort Myers Physical Therapy Tips & Tricks to Prevent & Reduce Toe-Walking

Toe walking is a pattern of walking wherein a child walks on the balls of their feet, with no contact between their heels and the ground. As our Fort Myers physical therapy team can explain, it’s common among children who are learning to walk, but most kids outgrow it after age 2, when they assume the typical heel-to-toe gait.

However, when toe walking persists beyond that, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or a spinal cord abnormality. (Children with autism spectrum disorder and related conditions often toe walk more frequently, but there isn’t any direct link between the two conditions. There is some speculation that it’s related to sensory issues.) Sometimes, the causes are idiopathic, meaning we don’t know why it happens.

In any case, regardless of the cause, toe walking can result in complications. Children who spend a lot of time on their toes can develop stiffness, tightening and pain in their Achilles tendon and calf. In turn, this can lead to poor range of motion in the ankle, which is going to have a snowball effect. This can be treated by our Fort Myers physical therapy and occupational therapy teams.

Fort Myers physical therapists

FOCUS Physical Therapists Explain Proprioception and Body Awareness

Proprioception is a medical term that refers to the body’s ability to sense itself. It is the sense that allows us to perceive the location, movement and action of our own body parts and their relation to external objects and forces around us. Our FOCUS physical therapists usually explain it with a simpler term: Body awareness.

Proprioception is what enables us to judge how we move and position our limbs, how much force to use and how best to balance. An example might be one’s ability to kick a ball or walk without looking at your feet, move a spoon to your mouth without looking at it or touch your nose even though your eyes are closed. It’s closely tied to our ability to control our movements, and it’s guided by the body’s receptors (skin, joints, muscles) that connect to the brain via the nervous system. Vision can play a role in proprioception, but it’s not inherently necessary. In fact, some evidence suggests it’s already present in newborns.

Many things can impact proprioception. Drinking alcohol is one example. (That’s why one of the standard field sobriety tests involves testing the ability to touch your nose while you’re standing on a single foot.) Some injuries and certain medical conditions can impact it too. Our physical therapists at FOCUS have treated many kids whose parents and caregivers report them to be “clumsy,” “uncoordinated” or “sensory seeking.” They might report their child is pressing too hard on the paper when writing or unable to apply the right amount of pressure for tasks like brushing their teeth or hair.

Often what these kids are experiencing is proprioceptive dysfunction.

Fort Myers physical therapy

Identifying, Treating Pediatric Vestibular Dysfunction Involves Occupational, Physical Therapy Collaboration

Once upon a time, vestibular dysfunction in children was thought to be exceptionally rare. Our occupational and physical therapists know, however, that pediatric vestibular disorders, which affect as many as 35 percent of adults, are increasingly being identified earlier than ever. Symptoms include chronic dizziness and imbalance. In children, vestibular system disorders can also cause problems in early development, impacting:

  • Ability to maintain an upright position when sitting;
  • Delays in crawling and walking;
  • Difficulty with steady vision when moving the head (for example when copying words or letters at a chalkboard when seated at a desk);
  • Diminished balance and motor function.

Long-term, this can have significant and painful social, educational and economic impacts for kids. Professionals on our FOCUS Fort Myers occupational and physical therapy teams are committed to identifying and addressing these issues early on, promoting the highest possible level of relief and function and ultimately mitigating the worst adverse impacts.

What is the Vestibular System and How Do I Know if My Child’s is Dysfunctional?

Fort Myers physical therapist for kids

Should My Child be Crawling by Now? FOCUS Fort Myers Pediatric Physical Therapists Weigh In

Many parents think of crawling as the simple progression between head up/rolling and standing up/ walking. But as our FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists can explain, crawling is in fact a major motor milestone requiring strength, coordination and motor planning. It is the first step toward independent mobility, which in turn will open new worlds and discoveries as well as lead the way to increasingly more complex movement.

Crawling is one of those skills that requires a child to use both their mind and body. The muscles in the arms, shoulders, neck, back and core need to be strong enough to support one’s weight. Vision is also key, as both eyes are needed to focus on a single target. Mentally, a crawling child is working to memorize facts and build navigation skills (“How can I get past the chair and around the coffee table to get to the toy box?”)

Although every child develops at a varying pace, most babies learn to crawl by about 6 and 10 months. Some babies breeze right on past crawling and go straight to pulling up and walking (read more below about our physical therapists’ take on this). So while each baby is different, we do encourage parents to ask their pediatrician or one of our FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists if your baby hasn’t shown steady progress in becoming mobile by the time they reach 12 months. It may also be worth asking if early intervention is needed if his or her “crawl” tends to involve dragging one side of the body.

preemies early intervention therapy

After the NICU: Preemies Excel With Early Intervention Therapy Age 0 to 5

Premature babies (aka “preemies”) born earlier than the 37th week of pregnancy, are more likely to survive today even compared to the 1990s – and they are more likely to have less severe disabilities. That’s according to research published in the British Medical Journal. Globally, about 15 million babies every year are born before the 37th week, placing them at higher risk for conditions like cerebral palsy, delayed language, speech and motor skills. Study authors further concluded preemies who receive early intervention therapy have a much better chance of catching up to their peers.

Preemies are already starting out behind the curve. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of serious illness and disability. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports preemies who survive those early weeks and months in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) may still struggle with breathing trouble, intestinal/digestive problems (including feeding and swallowing) and developmental delays. About half of all children born more than eight weeks early or at a very low birth weight develop problems with language, learning and executive function.

As our FOCUS Fort Myers therapy team can explain, early intervention therapy involves a combination of separate but interrelated services, tailored to meet the specific needs of each child, with the core aim of helping a child develop skills that will allow them to reach their full potential. This generally includes some combination of speech and language therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Although many preemies benefit from this therapy up to age 5 and sometimes beyond, commitment to therapy now reduces the struggles preemies will face down the road. 

Fort Myers pediatric physical therapy

Pediatric Physical Therapy Students Develop Technology to Help Children With Disabilities

If there was ever such a thing as a real-life Santa’s workshop for children with disabilities, it’s probably a bit closer to the equator than the North Pole. At the University of North Florida, pediatric physical therapy students have been partnering with those in the school’s engineering program, pooling their talent to create specialized toys for children with special needs.

The Florida Times-Union reports the pediatric physical therapy students have been working to help develop solutions from battery-powered ride-on cars for children with mobility issues to voice-activated toys for children who need speech therapy to electronic fidget cubes for high school students with autism.

Our FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric physical therapy professionals applaud the UNF Adaptive Toy project, first started in 2014 to help meet the needs for toys for local children with disabilities. The program has already become a model for nearly a half-dozen higher education programs across the country, with professors of electrical engineering and physical therapy at the college leading the way. Since the program was first launched, it has produced 31 cars for children with special needs, and two new toys were added just this year.

The pediatric physical therapy and electrical engineering students are continually working to resolve glitches and dream up ideas for new toys, specifically for children who suffer from disabilities such as cerebral palsy, genetic disorders and spinal muscular atrophy.

Fort Myers Physical Therapy Builds Strength After Teen Knee Surgery

Popularity of youth sports has exploded in recent years, and that’s great news for public health. However, it has also meant an uptick in child sports injuries – especially knee injuries like ACL tears. FOCUS Fort Myers physical therapy can help your teen  get back on their feet – and hopefully back to their sport – often with a few months of treatment.

The Cleveland Clinic reports it’s not just boys but girls too who are suffering sports injuries, as their participation rates have spiked. The hospital reports male and female injury rates are about the same these days, with 40 percent of all child injuries requiring emergency department treatment now being sports-related, amounting to roughly 4.4 million annually.

Our FOCUS Fort Myers physical therapists know sometimes  child sports injuries are worsened when coaches or teammates trivialize them, urging the youth to just play through the pain and stay tough.

pediatric physical therapy

Pediatric Physical Therapy Can Help With Chronic Constipation

Chronic constipation is a crappy problem – one common among all children, but especially prevalent among children special needs. Pediatric physical therapy at FOCUS Fort Myers may help, using exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles and improve posture.

We know this can be an uncomfortable issue to discuss, but if it’s causing your child pain and difficulty on a regular basis, it’s one that requires attention because it’s essential to good health. The Journal of Pediatrics reports constipation among children with autism is associated with increased emergency department visits and inpatient admissions. Depending on the underlying cause, pediatric physical therapy may help alleviate the problem. Occupational therapists, ABA therapists and even speech therapists can also collaborate on solutions.

Constipation involves either the inability to pass stool or problems that make it not as easy or frequent as one would like.

One analysis published in the journal Gastroenterology examined more than 50 school-age children suffering from functional constipation, all of whom were receiving the “standard” treatment for chronic constipation, which included potty training, education and laxatives. Half were randomly chosen to also receive pediatric physical therapy. Six months later, more than 90 percent of the children who got physical therapy no longer suffered from constipation, compared to about 60 percent of those who didn’t get physical therapy.