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Does My Child Need Physical Therapy?


Many people associate physical therapy with rehabilitation from a serious injury or surgery, however this form of treatment can help a wide variety of conditions and patients. For example, many children deal with congenital and developmental conditions that a pediatric physical therapist can treat. By improving mobility and function, child physical therapy can be an effective part of a long-term care strategy for many younger patients. 

If you’re wondering whether child physical therapy is right for your child, learning more about this form of treatment and the conditions and injuries it helps is a key first step. As you read over the following guide, we invite you to reach out with any questions or if you’d like to learn more about your treatment options. 

What is child physical therapy?

Also known as pediatric physical therapy, child physical therapy is a subspecialization of physical therapy and rehabilitation focused on the needs of younger patients. As a whole, physical therapy uses hands-on treatments and other methods to improve function in the body. Physical therapy uses the body itself as the primary treatment vehicle instead of medication or surgery, although it can be used in conjunction with other therapeutic modes. 

As the bodies of children are still growing and developing, this patient group has different needs compared to adult patients. Additionally, young patients also often require a different and more gentle manner of interaction. This is why pediatric physical therapists require specialized training and a unique approach to patient care. 

Like physical therapy for older patients however, child physical therapy is often a critical part of a comprehensive treatment plan. For children trying to overcome injury, reach developmental milestones or successfully live with a serious illness or condition, working with the right pediatric physical therapist can be highly effective. 

What conditions does child physical therapy treat?

Children can suffer from the same traumatic injuries as adults while also dealing with unique conditions that disproportionately affect younger patients. The most common conditions and injuries that child physical therapy can help with include:

  • Developmental disorders — Developmental disorders represent a wide range of conditions and diseases in children. According to the CDC, these can include mental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder to scoliosis to muscular dystrophy. A pediatric physical therapist can help identify functional issues associated with a specific patient and create an effective action plan to address them. 
  • Congenital diseases — From babies to adolescents, pediatric physical therapists can help children with often-inherited medical conditions including spina bifida, congenital scoliosis and cystic fibrosis. By focusing on child mobility and daily functioning, these patients can learn to adopt successful long-term care strategies. 
  • Sports-related injuries — With more children becoming involved in organized athletics, sports-related injuries, from soccer to gymnastics, are becoming more common. In addition to helping recover from a specific injury, pediatric physical therapists can help teach injury prevention, proper posture and movement.
  • Traumatic injuries — With smaller and still developing bodies, children can be disproportionately affected by automobile accidents, falls, household injuries and other accidents. Child physical therapy can help overcome this trauma while accounting for the needs of a younger and still developing patient.  
  • Surgical rehabilitation — Children who undergo any type of surgery require highly specialized attention in the recovery and rehabilitation process. A pediatric physical therapist can help ensure a positive recovery by working with your child to rebuild strength and increase range of motion during this critical phase. 

What are the primary methods a pediatric physical therapist uses?

When first meeting with a pediatric physical therapist, he or she will work with you and your child to develop a personalized treatment plan. The first step will be a thorough evaluation that includes a review of medical and treatment history, a physical examination, questions about current activity level and a discussion about treatment goals. Movement tests are also essential to set benchmarks for child mobility and function. 

Using this information, pediatric physical therapists should take a collaborative approach to develop a treatment plan designed to reach agreed upon goals for functional outcomes. Specific treatments vary from patient to patient depending on the diagnosis and other factors. However, common methods in a child physical therapy plan include:

  • Therapeutic exercise — Physical therapy exercises can be both active, or performed by the patient, and passive, which are performed on the patient by the therapist. Therapeutic exercises adapted for children are designed to improve basic function by building strength and stability while increasing range of motion. 
  • Manual therapy — These are any number of hands-on techniques that help relax tense muscles, mobilize soft tissue and increase blood flow to specific areas.
  • Movement training — A pediatric physical therapist can use a number of methods to improve coordination and teach fine or gross motor skills. This can be particularly beneficial for children with an acquired or congenital disability who are learning to adapt to daily activities and gain independent function. 
  • Aquatic therapy — Also known as pool therapy, this form of physical therapy can help children reach treatment goals by offering a combination of high resistance and low stress on joints. The water can also be naturally soothing and even fun for many younger patients. 

There are many other methods and specific types of child physical therapy. This includes prosthetic training for children who have limb loss due to amputation or birth-related causes as well as training to use a wheelchair or other aids. The specific combination of treatments that is right for each patient varies, which is why it’s extremely important to find a pediatric physical therapist who takes an individualized approach. 

Learn more about physical therapy treatment

When searching for a child physical therapy provider, always trust your instincts. Does he or she make eye contact with you and your child and take the time to explain conditions and treatments in an understandable way? The way your child responds to a prospective therapist is extremely important and can have a significant impact on the chances of reaching long-term functional goals. 

To learn more about physical therapy treatment options, contact the caring team at USA Spine Care and Orthopedics. Our multidisciplinary team includes physical therapy specialists with extensive experience in helping patients from all walks of life get back to the healthy and active lifestyle they deserve. 

Child Physical Therapy Quick Answers

What does a physical therapist do for a child?

A specialist in child physical therapy can help create a treatment plan designed to manage pain, improve mobility and effectively perform daily activities. By instructing and helping perform exercises that increase strength, stability  and range of motion, they can accomplish these goals and help kids with injuries and other conditions live an active lifestyle. 

What is the age range for child physical therapy?

Pediatric physical therapy can help kids of all ages, from babies to teenagers. Ask your prospective therapist if they specialize in a particular age range. Some pediatric physical therapists may focus on helping babies and toddlers while others may have more experience helping adolescent or teenage patients with issues such as scoliosis or sports injuries. 

How do I know if my child needs physical therapy?

Children who can benefit from physical therapy include young patients who are not reaching developmental milestones, are not recovering from an injury or who have been diagnosed with a congenital disease or condition. Often, a pediatrician will recommend child physical therapy as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. 

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