• 21 July, 2023

The Importance of Pediatric Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the healing and rehabilitation process for individuals of all ages. However, it is often overlooked that physical therapy is not limited to adults. Pediatric physical therapy is a specialized branch that focuses on improving children's physical abilities, motor skills, and overall quality of life. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of pediatric physical therapy, exploring its benefits, conditions it treats, and how parents can support their children throughout the therapy process.


Understanding Pediatric Physical Therapy


Pediatric physical therapy is a specialized field that addresses the unique needs of children, considering their developing bodies and the conditions that may affect their bones and muscles as they grow. These dedicated physical therapists possess the expertise to engage children and keep them motivated during therapy sessions. By tailoring exercises and activities to their developmental stage, pediatric physical therapy aims to enhance children's physical abilities, improve motor skills, aid in recovery from injuries or surgery, and prevent further harm.


How Pediatric Physical Therapy Helps Children


Recovery from Acute Injury


Children are susceptible to acute injuries, such as overuse injuries from repetitive activities or sports-related mishaps. For instance, frequent running in soccer can lead to overuse injuries in the legs. Additionally, children who participate in sports may experience anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, which often require surgical intervention.


While surgery and rest are crucial for recovery, muscles can weaken due to lack of usage during the healing process. Pediatric physical therapy plays a vital role in strengthening muscles, restoring them to their pre-injury or pre-surgery state. It also teaches children alternative movements and techniques to prevent reinjury. To keep children engaged and motivated during therapy sessions, pediatric physical therapists employ strategies such as turning exercises into games or offering incentives for completing tasks.


Pediatric physical therapy not only helps relieve pain and strengthen muscles but also educates children on pain management without relying on addictive pain-relief medications. It empowers children to regain control over their bodies and safely return to sports and physical activities.


Recovery from Chronic Illness


Apart from acute injuries, pediatric physical therapy is integral to the treatment of children with chronic illnesses or developmental delays. Conditions like cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, and muscular dystrophy can significantly impact a child's ability to coordinate movement and interact with the world.

Children with muscular dystrophy, for example, struggle with daily functions due to weakened muscles. Pediatric physical therapy becomes essential in strengthening their muscles, increasing independence, and improving mental and physical well-being. During therapy sessions, physical therapists guide children through exercises tailored to their specific condition, aiming to enhance motor skills, physical abilities, and overall quality of life.


Encouraging Appropriate Crawling and Movement Behaviors


The way a baby crawls can have a significant impact on their development. Pediatric physical therapists can help babies learn proper crawling techniques that strengthen their arm and leg muscles effectively. Crawling is a crucial developmental milestone that contributes to building a healthy body.


Maximizing the Benefits of Pediatric Physical Therapy


Parents play a vital role in ensuring their children get the most out of pediatric physical therapy sessions. By following these guidelines, parents can support their children throughout the therapy process:


1. Prepare and Support


Before each session, ensure that your child is well-rested and well-fed. Bring any necessary items, such as water, snacks, or toys, to make the session comfortable and enjoyable for your child. Maintain a positive and upbeat attitude during each session to encourage your child's engagement and motivation.


2. Practice at Home


Consistency is key in reaping the benefits of pediatric physical therapy. Practice the exercises or activities prescribed by the physical therapist at home between sessions. Join your child in performing the exercises, making them fun and enjoyable. If your child encounters difficulties with a particular exercise, communicate with the pediatric physical therapist for guidance on overcoming obstacles.


Conditions Treated by Pediatric Physical Therapy


Pediatric physical therapy can address a wide range of conditions that affect children's mobility, development, and overall well-being. Some of the conditions commonly treated include:


  • Cerebral palsy

  • Autism spectrum disorder

  • Muscular dystrophy

  • Developmental delays

  • Head injuries

  • Birth defects

  • Genetic disorders


Each condition requires a tailored approach to therapy, and pediatric physical therapists employ various treatments and activities to improve children's independence and overall functioning.


Treatment Methods in Pediatric Physical Therapy


Pediatric physical therapists utilize a variety of treatments and activities tailored to each child's specific needs. Some common methods and treatments include:


  • Balance and coordination activities to improve fine muscle control

  • Adaptive play to accommodate permanent disabilities

  • Aquatic therapy to reduce joint impact

  • Training exercises to increase strength

  • Flexibility exercises to improve range of motion

  • Heat, cold, massage, ultrasound, or electrotherapy to enhance circulation

  • Technical instruction to improve form, posture, and prevent future injuries


Physical therapists keep track of a child's progress, conduct assessments, and provide home exercises to ensure consistent improvement between therapy sessions.


Ensuring Safety and Addressing Concerns


While pediatric physical therapy is generally safe, it is essential to be aware of potential risks and address any concerns. Children may experience temporary discomfort or fatigue after therapy sessions, which is normal due to the nature of the exercises. However, if your child experiences unusual or severe pain, consult the physical therapist to ensure exercises are not exacerbating the injury.


Parents should also prevent their children from overdoing exercises at home. Adhering to the recommended frequency and intensity of home exercises is crucial to avoid further injury. Ensure that your child follows the instructions provided by the physical therapist to facilitate a safe and efficient recovery.


Pediatric physical therapy plays a vital role in enhancing children's physical abilities, motor skills, and overall well-being. From aiding in recovery from acute injuries to treating chronic illnesses and developmental delays, pediatric physical therapy offers tailored solutions to address various conditions affecting children. By actively participating in therapy sessions, practicing exercises at home, and maintaining open communication with the physical therapist, parents can ensure their children receive the maximum benefits of pediatric physical therapy. Remember, early intervention and ongoing support can significantly impact a child's development and quality of life.