Many things can cause physical and developmental challenges in babies and toddlers. The three common categories and causes are listed below:
1) Head & Neck Challenges
Most head and neck challenges are congenital and are due to intrauterine constraint but can be due to external and environmental factors. Intrauterine constraint describes the situation where the fetus is not able to freely move its head while developing in utero. The baby is born with any of the following: tight and restricted neck muscles, limited neck range of motion, mis-shapened head or facial asymmetries. Head & neck challenges that occur outside of the womb can be due to any of the following: An infant/ toddler with a larger than average head, body or body weight can have a more difficult time moving against gravity. He/she may tend to take the path of least resistance, thereby not moving his/her head or body as needed to develop strength, flexibility and a nice round head. An infant/ toddler that does not get enough tummy time can also exhibit muscle weakness and poor muscle endurance in the neck, shoulder, back and core muscles. Not addressing these challenges can lead to developmental delays.
2) Developmental Delays
Physical Therapy addresses motor developmental delays, which are due to challenges to an infant/ toddler’s musculoskeletal system. These challenges affect an infant/ toddler’s ability to accomplish age-appropriate physical milestones. Motor delays can be due to premature birth, multiple births, lack of early stimulation, autism, larger head or body size, conditions that affect muscles and joints (i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis, Erbs Palsy, Torticollis, hip or shoulder problems, and joint sprains/ strains) or traumatic events such as a car accident, surgery, etc. Developmental milestones are markers for healthy growth, movement and function. If they are not achieved as expected, and an infant/toddler falls behind, they may develop alternate movement strategies that do not utilize symmetry and stability. They may eventually have functional limitations as adults with greater challenges.
3) Low Muscle Tone
An infant/ toddler with low muscle tone demonstrates muscle groups that are weaker and softer than normal. The weak muscles are either in the arms, legs and/or trunk, and often results in developmental delay. This challenge is not caused by anything in particular but has been linked to conditions involving the central nervous system, muscle disorders, and genetic disorders. A few common causes are Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. Physical therapy can help improve strength, gain joint and postural stability, and ensure that your infant/ toddler does not fall behind. A tailored exercise program is guaranteed to help your infant/ toddler accomplish appropriate motor milestones.