Pediatric physical therapy gets one-year-old walkingAugust 5, 2015
Rebecca Garcia high steps down the hall, lifting each tiny foot as if she has to navigate a small hurdle, exactly how she should be walking at 14 months, said Gina Plata, a pediatric physical therapist at Holy Name Medical Center. And when the youngster turns to show off the rattle she is clinging to, her balance is strong. She doesn’t lean to the side, or worse, topple over. She has come a long way.
At four months old, Rebecca wasn’t trying to roll over, hold herself up in a sitting position, or do other physical activities that mark developmental progress. Her legs would stiffen instead of bending when she moved. For a short time, her parents, Gabriele and Gabriela Garcia, were terrified that she may have a serious disease. But testing showed Rebecca only had benign congenital hypotonia, or poor muscle tone not related to another condition, and could be treated with physical therapy.
Plata has been working with Rebecca since that time, twice a week for 45-minute sessions. The youngster has overcome many of her developmental delays and is very close to where she should be at her age.
"Our goal was to improve her gross motor skills and stabilize and strengthen her core," Plata said. "She’s doing really well and she’s babbling, a good sign that she’s on track with other developments."
Hypotonia is a deficiency in the muscle or nervous systems but the muscles themselves are not damaged. Rather, the muscles don’t receive accurate messages from the brain. Babies with this condition have trouble interpreting what their body is feeling and how to move through space. Often, without treatment, they can’t run and jump or even squat and stand up without falling.
In treatment, Rebecca goes through a series of activities to improve her quality of movement: sitting in a square swing and lying on an enormous ball, both to improve balance and posture while strengthening her core. She also walks with a harness, called a gate belt, which allows her enough freedom to right herself if she lists to one side but stops her from falling over.
"Our experienced pediatric physical therapistspists provide the highest quality services to their patients in a warm and caring environment, said Jason Kavountzis, MPT, OCS, director of Rehabilitation Services. "We use a team approach involving the referring physician and other members of the rehabilitation team, including occupational and speech therapy to maximize our patients’ function and mobility."
Rebecca’s parents are delighted with her progress.
"We never even knew there was physical therapy for children," Mrs. Garcia said. "We’re so happy we found this program at Holy Name — it has made a world of difference for her."
Both parents participate in every physical therapy session, standing in front of Rebecca, encouraging her to walk to them and helping massage her feet and legs at the beginning of each session to increase sensitivity and leg awareness. Their involvement has helped speed Rebecca’s rehabilitation, Plata said.
"Many places don’t let parents in the room with the child but we feel it helps," Plata said. "I don’t think Rebecca would be doing as well as she is if they weren’t so involved."
Mr. Garcia said they watch what Rebecca does and then repeat it at home, beginning with the massages.
"She has come so far — she crawls all the time and then walks from one thing to another. But she still wants to hold our hands when she walks far," Gabriele said with a smile.