The Benefits of Physiotherapy for Children with Down syndrome

The Benefits of Physiotherapy for Children with Down syndrome



Down syndrome is the most common genetic disability that affects one in every 1100 births in Australia. Children with Down syndrome may acquire motor skills more slowly than a child without Down syndrome and they develop their skills according to their own timetable.

Physiotherapy for infants and children with Down syndrome aims to promote the best possible functional movement patterns and posture early in life. This is partly achieved by minimising the ‘development of compensatory movement patterns that children with Down syndrome are prone to develop’. In this article, we will further explore the benefits of physiotherapy for children with Down syndrome and how they can help them lead happier, healthier lives.

Understanding Down syndrome and its effects on children

Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21, which affects the development of the brain and body. Children with Down syndrome can experience delayed physical growth, low muscle tone, and joint hypermobility. These can lead to difficulties in coordination, balance, and motor skills.

Children and young people with Down syndrome may also experience cognitive and behavioural challenges, such as learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These challenges can further impact their ability to develop physical skills and navigate the world around them.

The role of physiotherapy to support children with Down syndrome

Physiotherapy focuses on improving physical function and mobility. For children with Down syndrome, physiotherapy can help improve muscle strength, coordination, and balance. It can also help improve posture and enhance motor skills.

In addition to these physical benefits, physiotherapy can also have a positive impact on a child’s emotional and mental wellbeing. As children improve their physical abilities, they gain confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This can lead to improved self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life.

Physiotherapy management for children with Down syndrome

  • Early intervention: getting started early and working with families is important to develop optimal motor skills and physiotherapists provide early support using Family-Centred Practice. Physiotherapists problem solve how to set up play activities that are fun and motivating whilst also developing muscle strength and postural control to assist the development of rolling, sitting up, kneeling, pulling to stand, cruising and finally walking.


  • Increasing physical activity for school age children: making sure children with Down syndrome are wearing supportive footwear to promote good foot and ankle alignment for optimal gross motor skill development is vital. Higher level motor skills for this age-group include bike riding, jumping, climbing and going up and down stairs, ball games etc. Activities to develop balance and coordination can assist children with Down syndrome participating in outdoor play and sports and recreation activities with their friends.

How Physiotherapy can help improve quality of life for children with Down syndrome

Physiotherapy can have a significant impact on the quality of life for children with Down syndrome. By improving physical function and mobility, children can better participate in activities they enjoy, such as sports, dance, and other physical activities. This can help you child to make friends, build better relationships with peers, and provide sense of belonging.

Physiotherapy can also potentially help prevent secondary health issues that can pose a risk for children with Down syndrome such as being overweight, cardiovascular disease, and joint problems. By improving levels of physical activity, children can maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of these health issues.

Finally, physiotherapy can help children and young people with Down syndrome become more independent and self-sufficient. By improving their physical abilities, your child can better navigate the world around them, from dressing themselves to performing daily tasks such as brushing their teeth or using the bathroom.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers to Support Children

Self-care is key and finding therapists that understand family-centred practice and the importance of working in partnership with families as well as collaboratively as a team can reduce the stress that parents experience. Too many therapists working on too many areas separately can lead to overwhelm and burn-out for families. Joining parent groups or playgroups can be very helpful too.

Honest and open communication with your therapy team about goals that are important to you, concerns you have for the future and impacts on the family that you would like support with, eg sibling relationships is also really important.

Further information

For further information on how the Xavier physiotherapy team can support your child, contact the Xavier team today. You can call us on 1800 XAVIER or use the form on our physiotherapy page and we will be in touch.