Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2014
Written by  Kara Phernetton, LMT, CPMT

Pediatric massage and Down syndrome

As a massage therapist and pediatric massage therapist, I’ve been given unique opportunities to work on a variety of people. Different backgrounds, lifestyles, economic situations, and physical and mental differences have made for a very exciting and enjoyable ride. I’ve come to find that everyone has something unique to their body, and it’s my job to figure out the best therapy to further their quality of life with a painless and beneficial therapy. Many populations are overlooked in the massage industry, but as time goes on, more research is being done in those areas to see just how massage therapy can be valuable to them.

Children with Down syndrome represent one such population. Caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21, Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder. Affecting almost one in 700 babies (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it is a lifelong condition. Children and adults with Down syndrome may benefit from alternative and complementary therapies.

Pediatric massage for children with Down syndrome may provide some potential benefits to the child’s overall daily life. Constipation is a great concern for children with Down syndrome, and a professional, gentle abdominal massage may help improve gastrointestinal function. Low muscle tone is also a general characteristic of children with Down syndrome. This can also lead to poor reflexes, coordination and balance. These children may also have problems with body awareness. Massage can help improve muscle tone by stimulating reflexes within the muscle. It may also help in developing motor skills and certain techniques may be implemented to balance the two different hemispheres of the brain, which can aid in body awareness.

It’s very important to take precautions with this population as well. Therapists who have taken extra training in massage for Down syndrome are aware of the necessary precautions that need to be considered. Many children with Down syndrome will also have a seizure disorder, cataracts, and/or heart complications. Along with these special considerations, many children will also have a different sensory threshold than their peers. With the right training, a massage therapist can tailor a massage regime to the individual child that will be beneficial, but will not interfere with other medical issues.

In a world of drug-related and invasive therapy, massage is a nice step back. It allows for children (and parents) to breathe more easily and regain some control. Children remain clothed for sessions, and the therapy can seem more like a “play time” session than an actual treatment. Therapists use a variety of tools and techniques to make sessions comfortable and fun for children, while at the same time providing the physical benefits of massage.


Kara Phernetton, LMT, CPMT, is a nationally certified and licensed massage therapist, as well as a certified pediatric massage therapist. She graduated with an AAS degree from Rasmussen College in 2012, and now owns and operates Life Uncommon Massage, 2050 Riverside Drive in Green Bay. Kara is dedicated to offering holistic healing and relaxation to all her clients, especially those with physical, emotional and developmental differences. She incorporates sound healing in her therapy treatments and uses a variety of different modalities to fit her clients’ needs. Hours are by appointment only. Please call 920-246-1423 for more information.

Reference: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Facts about Down syndrome.” Nov, 2013. http://cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/downsyndrome.html.

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