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.
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.
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.
For scorching summer days, nothing compares to a splash in a cool pool – and Florida has plenty (1.1 million just in private residences alone, according to Florida State University data). For children with special needs and developmental delays, Fort Myers physical therapists know swimming has benefits far beyond simply tempering the heat.
The unique properties of water – the buoyancy, the resistance and all-encompassing nature – are proven to help improve muscle tone and overall strength, balance, posture. coordination, flexibility, motor planning, gross motor skills and sensory regulation.
In fact, physical therapists have developed an entire branch of treatment, known as aquatic therapy, which is know to be especially effective with younger clientele. Physical therapy can be hard work, tough on the joints and muscles. Working in the water serves as a sort of cushion, reducing discomfort and pain and making children less reluctant to fully engage. Also, it’s just fun to be in the water! Although FOCUS Fort Myers does not currently offer aquatic therapy, our physical therapists can offer parents and caregivers tailored exercise ideas to practice with their kids while playing in the pool. (Bonus: They’ll be having so much fun, they won’t even realize they’re “working.”)
Most parents at some point or another question whether their child is properly developing.
“Is that normal?” we ask. “Should I be worried or call someone?”
The need for physical therapy is sometimes obvious, but not always. At FOCUS, our Fort Myers physical therapists for children know a parent’s instincts are usually right. We do offer free screenings to help determine whether we should proceed with an evaluation and possibly services.