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Pediatric Physical Therapy (PT)

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Summary

If your child or adolescent is injured or has problems with movement because of a disability or chronic illness, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. The purpose of physical therapy is to maintain or restore movement or range of motion, to help ease pain and help patients prevent injuries. Sometimes, physical therapy can replace surgery or medication in treating a problem.

Expanded Overview

Physical therapy is a planned program of activities that will help improve your child’s movement or pain. A licensed physical therapist examines your child and plans treatment based on your doctor’s request and the therapist’s evaluation of your child’s needs.

Physical therapists must have an advanced education, which means a master’s or doctoral degree that includes a one-year clinical residency.  They must be licensed by the state they practice in. Some physical therapists can choose an additional certification as a pediatric physical therapist, specializing in caring for children and adolescents and the diseases and conditions that affect pediatric patients most often.

Physical therapists who care for children understand infant and childhood anatomy and development. They often are specially trained in using play to engage your child in therapy and in teaching your child how to move or participate in activities safely.

FAQs

Why does my child need physical therapy?

Our patients who are being treated as inpatients may need physical therapy to help them regain movement skills or prepare for a return home. We also provide outpatient physical therapy to children who have a number of conditions and chronic diseases.

For example, your child with cerebral palsy might need physical therapy throughout his or her life to improve muscle strength and movement, and to prevent joints from stiffening. Physical therapy is the main treatment for torticollis, tightening of an infant’s neck muscles that can lead to problems with movement, balance or your child’s skeletal development.

Examples of other conditions in children and adolescents that might require physical therapy include:

  • Amputations
  • Bone tumors
  • Brain tumor
  • Congenital (present at birth) differences in limb length
  • Developmental delays
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Orthopedic injuries
  • Problems with gait
  • Problems with visual, motor or perceptual development
  • Spina bifida
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Traumatic brain injury

How do I prepare for the appointment?

Before your child or adolescent sees a physical therapist for the first time, it helps to let the child know that the therapist will work together with the child to improve the problem your child is having. Remind the child that, like a doctor or nurse, the physical therapist has to look at and touch parts of the child’s body.

Develop a list of questions that you and your child have and discuss or make notes about the symptoms or pain your child is experiencing, such as times of day that the problem is worse, or what types of movement or positions make it worse.

First appointment

At the first visit, be prepared to answer plenty of questions about your child’s health or support your adolescent’s interview with answers about family medical history. The physical therapist will thoroughly evaluate your child during the first visit, and may ask your child to perform certain activities to observe how the body functions and moves or to measure muscle strength. For example, the therapist might have your child walk across the room.

The therapist may start your child on a program right away. The therapist develops a series of movements or activities and provides education to you and your child. The program might include regular exercises or activities to perform at home between visits with the therapist.

Resources

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