Pediatric Physical Therapy
Physical Therapy improves a child’s gross motor functioning and focuses on improving a child’s strength, gait, balance and coordination with gross motor movements. Physical Therapy works towards a child developing age-appropriate motor skills or a functional motor skill level to interact with his or her environment.
Physical Therapy also works with motor planning skills. Therapy retrains the brain on how to control motor movements. As we all know, the brain controls the opposite side of the body. Therefore, we encourage children to do reciprocal movements and crossing-midline activities. These activities help stimulate the brain and improves a child’s motor development and motor planning skills. This helps build and rebuild their strength, improve their gait (walking), balance and coordination. Improved strength and motor movements helps build a child’s confidence and social interaction skills as well.
A Physical Therapist can recommend and fit a child for adaptive equipments such as orthoics/prosthetics, standers, walkers, canes, strollers, wheelchairs and other mobility assistive devices. A Physical Therapist also uses manual skills such as PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) to improve proprioception, joint mobilization/compression to improve muscle tone and therapeutic activities/exercises to improve strength and mobility.
Possible symptoms to watch for:
- “Floppy” or “Doughy” feel to muscles
- Excessively tight muscles causing difficulty for child to move arms or legs
- Difficulty walking or abnormality of gait, such as, walking on tiptoes often or limping
- Arches back often even when not mad
- Clumsy. Trips or falls often
- Neglect or not using one side of the body
- In infants, not holding head up or leaning head to one side
- Motor Developmental Delay such as, not sitting, walking or running
Frequently Asked Questions
Pediatric physical therapists work to help children reach their maximum potential for functional independence through examination, evaluation, promotion of health and wellness, and implementation of a wide variety of interventions and supports. Pediatric PTs support children from infancy through adolescence and collaborate with their families and other medical, educational, developmental, and rehabilitation specialists. They promote the participation of children in daily activities and routines in the home, school and community.
Parents and families have the primary role in their child’s development. The pediatric physical therapist collaborates with the family to implement an indiv idualized program for the child. Families are supported through coordination of services and assistance to enhance the development of their child through:
- Positioning during daily routines and activities
- Adapting toys for play
- Expanding mobility options
- Using equipment effectively
- Teaching safety for the home and community
- Providing information on the child’s physical, emotional and health care needs
- Easing transitions from early childhood to school and into adult life
The process of supporting children and families begins with an interview to identify the child’s needs and continues with an examination and evaluation of the child in the context of their daily routines and activities. This evaluation may include, but not be limited to, muscle and joint function, mobility, strength, endurance, gait, posture and balance, sensory and neuromotor development and use of assistive technology.
This is a concern that is often asked by parents. With the exception of a diagnosed neurological condition, parents should understand that there is a given range for every developmental milestone. With walking, for example, although many children begin their first steps between 10 and 12 months, the actual range falls between 11-15 months; in fact, in one study of over 2000 American infants, about 90% of the infants began their first steps around 13.5 months. In addition, if your child was born prematurely, she/he may be delayed in achieving the typical milestones for a child born at term.
There are many treatment approaches that pediatric therapists draw from in the 0-3 age population. For example, a therapist may employ hands-on techniques with your child with developmental delay to help facilitate necessary movements or to extinguish adverse ones. The therapist may also incorporate specific positioning strategies and activities to assist your child in achieving age-appropriate developmental milestones. Since treatment time and frequency are limited on a weekly basis, therapists rely on the caregivers to carry out a home program to be performed regularly with their child; the therapist emphasizes educating you on how to perform these therapeutic activities with your child. Your impact on the delivery of care is very important and compliance is essential.
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. This means that most people on the autism spectrum have delays, differences or disorders in many areas — including gross and fine motor skills. Children on the spectrum may have low muscle tone, or have a tough time with coordination and sports. These issues can interfere with basic day-to-day functioning — and they’re almost certain to interfere with social and physical development.
Children with autism would rarely be termed physically disabled (though there are some autistic children with very low muscle tone, which may make it difficult to sit or walk for long periods). Most children with autism do, however, have physical limitations.
Physical therapists may work with very young children on basic motor skills such as sitting, rolling, standing and playing. They may also work with parents to teach them some techniques for helping their child build muscle strength, coordination and skills.
As children grow older, physical therapists are more likely to come to a child’s preschool or school. There, they may work on more sophisticated skills such as skipping, kicking, throwing and catching. These skills are not only important for physical development, but also for social engagement in sports, recess and general play.