ninjas rock! how martial arts are kicking physical therapy up a notch
The shouts from a dozen kids echo through Dayton Children’s new rehabilitation center in Beavercreek. They stand as close to attention as their excitement will allow, but it’s hard not to wiggle when you’re having such a good time.
When did physical therapy become so much fun? When Dayton Children’s teamed up with the Quest Center for Martial Arts in Centerville to offer “ninja” group physical therapy. Matt Herbert is a third degree martial artist and To Shin Do instructor. He leads the kids through the movements while pediatric physical therapist Dana Gifford provides hands-on guidance through the techniques based on each child’s physical therapy goals. Dana also adjusts each activity that a child may not be able to perform - such as a particular sitting position, squat or twist.
“This is a unique and fun way to approach physical therapy,” says Janet Squiers, PT, rehabilitation manager at Dayton Children’s Hospital. Squiers spearheaded this ninja therapy program. “While we try to keep regular PT fun for our kids in the one on one session, this group approach breaks up the routine. It provides a social opportunity and the chance to experience a new activity, one they may not try on their own.”
“We also added peer models to this group – kids who are not currently engaged in physical therapy but are interested in learning martial arts. This helps teach that kids of all ability levels can participate in the same group activities, learn, grow and have fun!”
“Martial arts are a great way to build not only strength of the body, but of the mind,” says Matt Herbert, Quest Center instructor. “I see them come in hesitant and unsure, but they gradually grow more confident in their big motor skills and by the end they are just having fun and eager to tackle more challenging moves. That’s when they really shine.”
“My daughter, Madelin, has some ability issues focused on balance, strength and coordination, especially in her lower body,” says Yellow Springs mom, Sommer McGuire. “While we’ve seen a lot of progress in traditional PT, we’re thankful for this program that allows her to experience something a little different.”
Some of the activities addressed in the ninja therapy include core strength, posture correction, balance, coordination, standing weight shift, imitation of movement and body positions, motor planning, crossing midline, unilateral standing balance and gross motor skills, like rolling. Increased focus and attention during the group activity are also a key benefit for many of the participants. This approach is offered occasionally with other activities like ballet, yoga and even Zumba. Other unique group approaches have included wheelchair tennis and a handwriting class called “Pencil Power.”
“Zoe has been in physical therapy almost since the day she was born,” says Beavercreek mom, Erin Roll. “So this is new, different and exciting for her. It’s given her a lot of confidence and we’ve seen a big improvement in flexibility.”
“This has been amazing for Marshall,” says Joyce Purcell from Kettering. “He’s able to incorporate these movements into every day, normal activities. I’m pretty sure he thinks he’s going to be a ninja now!”
“We talk about confidence quite a bit and just believing in yourself,” says Rene Hick, Quest instructor. “By giving them this safe environment to test an activity, now they know that they can do that in other areas of life, too.”
As this eight week program comes to an end, each child receives a certificate, and even more important, the confidence in their new ninja skills. They pull together for one last group huddle and shout in one voice, “Ninjas rock!”
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