Chiropractic and Down Syndrome

What is Down syndrome?
Down syndrome is the most common genetic chromosomal disorder and cause of learning disabilities in children. Trisomy 21 is due to an extra chromosome 21 in all of the cells. This is caused by abnormal cell division during the development of the sperm cell or the egg cell. Mosaic Down syndrome is when not all the cells of the body have the exta chromosome 21. This mosaic of normal and abnormal cells is caused by abnormal cell division after fertilization and accounts for 2 to 4 percent of people diagnosed with Down syndrome. Translocation Down syndrome. This occurs when part of chromosome 21 becomes attached (translocated) onto another chromosome, before or at conception. These children have the usual two copies of chromosome 21, but they also have additional material from chromosome 21 attached to the translocated chromosome. Not all cells of the body will have the extra chromosome 21.  This is the only form of Down syndrome that can be inherited. It only accounts for about 4 percent of children with Down syndrome.   

Health Risks
Heart defects: About half the children with Down syndrome are born with some type of heart defect. These heart problems can be life-threatening and may require surgery in early infancy.
Dementia: People with Down syndrome have a greatly increased risk of dementia — signs and symptoms may begin around age 50. Those who have dementia also have a higher rate of seizures. Having Down syndrome also increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Sleep apneaBecause of soft tissue and skeletal changes that lead to the obstruction of their airways, children and adults with Down syndrome are at greater risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
Other problems: Down syndrome may also be associated with Increased Risk of Leukemia, obesity and infections. Other health conditions, including gastrointestinal blockage, thyroid problems, early menopause, seizures, ear infections, hearing loss, skin problems such as psoriasis, skeletal problems and poor vision.

How We May Help
First and foremost, see the child first. Put the child before the syndrome and don’t refer to the syndrome first, for example we don’t want to say“ A Down’s child” . Please refer to a “ A child with Down syndrome”.

With increased risk of sleep apnea, infections and gastrointestinal issues, gentle cranial and dural techniques are ideal. Helping to decrease stress at the brainstem level where our sleep and wake centres, digestion, respiratory control, heart rate and sensory and motor pathways are found is ideal for these infants.

Low tone will be present in the majority of infants so core tone strengthening exercises are fantastic. Ball rocking and tummy time for babies. Superman and skydiver for older children. Plenty of daily repetition is essential. Exercises that help cross the midline are also very helpful.


Sensory stimulation for face and body. Massage of the trigeminal nerve to help give the brain more feedback. Encourage breast feeding as it works the facial muscles and tongue far more regularly and efficiently than oral motor/speech therapy. This helps with tongue position and speech.

Lots of sensory massage. TacPacis great and uses different textures to different music http://www.tacpac.co.uk/TP-order-online.htm.

Nutrition is very important as there may be malabsorption from the gut as a result of genetically-induced weaker digestion or subclinical gluten intolerance (Gale et al 1997). Low thyroid function my be linked to Zinc deficiency. Increased metabolism of Vitamin C which can lead to Vitamin C deficiency. A nutrient dense diet is recommended, including whole foods, green smoothies, low to no gluten or dairy due to common intolerances. Nutrients that have been found to be deficient in children with Down syndrome include:

  • Zinc, Vitamin E, (Cengiz et al 2000)
  • Vitamin A (Baer et al 1990)
  • Vitamin B6 (Coburn 1983)
  • Selenium (Neve et al 1983)
  • Vitamin C (Hilty et al 1991; Colombo et al 1989)
  • Folate (David et al 1996)
  • Magnesium (Monterio 1997)

Try good quality whole food supplements or referral for co-management with a Naturopath/Nutritional consultant.

Lots of movement, dance, martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, sports and playgrounds to build good body awareness and tone by plasticising pathways. 
Written by Lorene Dennis, Chiropractor
Auckland, New Zealand
 
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