Physical therapy (PT) is incredibly beneficial for improving strength, flexibility, independence and range of motion. Pediatric physical therapy can help children recover from injuries, reduce chronic pain, develop motor skills, manage symptoms of medical conditions and prevent or reduce further disease progression.
Your child may benefit from physical therapy for a variety of reasons, so it's important to watch for developmental delays. If you notice any signs that your child may benefit from PT, consider seeking medical advice regarding therapy. Pediatric physical therapists use fun and developmentally appropriate movement activities to help children improve their physical abilities and quality of life.
Continue reading to learn why pediatric physical therapy is an excellent treatment option for children experiencing injuries, developmental delays, genetic conditions, chronic pain and birth defects.
What Can I Expect From Pediatric Physical Therapy?
Children often learn best through playing, so pediatric physical therapy uses play-based techniques that help children have fun while they develop.
The goal of pediatric physical therapy is to help children develop gross motor skills in an environment where they feel happy, safe and comfortable. It involves focused play activities to promote specific movements and activate different muscles. When your child attends pediatric physical therapy, they may engage in any of the following activities:
- Climbing play ladders
- Playing with weighted or bouncing balls
- Playing on slides
- Developing balance and core strength on swings
- Aquatic therapy
- Running, jumping and climbing to complete fun obstacle courses
- Walking and crawling exercises
- Walking along marked lines on the floor to develop coordination and balance
- Playing with toys and games to develop strength and coordination
Therapy plans also incorporate fun activities you can help your child work on at home to support their development.
Does My Child Need Physical Therapy?
Doctors often recommend physical therapy when it will help a child recover from an injury or develop skills while living with certain disorders and conditions. However, your child may also benefit from physical therapy for reasons beyond injuries and health conditions.
Your child may show signs of developmental delays at home before your doctor notices. Looking for certain signs can help you determine if your child needs physical therapy. Pediatric physical therapy is important and beneficial for a baby that shows the following signs:
- Turning their head to only one side
- Inability to bear weight on their legs
- Inability to sit up, crawl or walk or by the appropriate ages
- Walking exclusively on their toes
Various injuries and medical conditions can hinder a child's development, and physical therapists can help identify areas where your child may need some attention. A pediatric physical therapist can develop an effective plan for your child by completing the following:
- Evaluating your child's strength
- Assessing flexibility
- Checking the range of motion
- Analyzing posture and gait
After identifying any impairments or physical limitations your child experiences, a physical therapist plans activities to help your child develop in those areas.
How Can Physical Therapy Help My Child?
Pediatric physical therapy has various goals and purposes based on each individual child's needs. Physical therapy can accomplish the following:
- Rehabilitate injuries
- Prevent future injuries
- Reduce pain
- Prevent disabilities
- Prevent the need for surgery
- Manage chronic illnesses
- Develop or improve gross motor skills and abilities
Physical therapy for child development also promotes an active lifestyle, increases motor skills and supports brain development. To understand how it can help your child, consider the following benefits of pediatric physical therapy:
- Muscle strength
- Range of motion
- Coordination and balance
- Motor milestones
Improving their gross motor skills can also help children develop independence and confidence. This confidence can support their socialization and help them join school activities, make friends, participate in extracurriculars and continue to live an active lifestyle throughout their life. You should consider the benefits of pediatric physical therapy if your child experiences any of the following injuries or conditions:
1. Overuse Injuries
Overuse injuries occur when individuals experience repeated stress on joint or muscle groups. Overuse injuries can affect muscles, bones, ligaments or tendons. They typically start by causing mild discomfort or pain, but they gradually worsen until they get medical attention or therapy.
Children are especially vulnerable to overuse injuries because their bodies are still developing. If your child experiences an overuse injury, pediatric medical care and physical therapy can help them heal properly and potentially prevent long-term complications. Treating overuse injuries early protects children's bone growth, helping them develop healthier bones and avoid future injuries.
2. Recovery From Muscle and Bone Injuries
Pediatric physical therapy can also help children recover following an injury or surgery. While braces, rest, compression, ice and elevation may help an injury heal and relieve pain, pediatric physical therapy goes beyond pain management.
Engaging in physical therapy can help your child reduce or prevent chronic pain and inflammation. It can also help them build muscle strength, restore their full range of motion and prevent future injuries.
3. Recovery From Head Injuries
If your child experiences a head injury, pediatric physical therapy can help them rehabilitate by focusing on the gross motor skills the injury affects. Brain injuries can impair functions, and some children who experience brain injuries lose certain abilities.
Pediatric physical therapy may help your child regain some of their lost or impaired function through individualized gross motor activities. Pediatric physical therapists customize a plan to help your child complete training and exercises to improve their coordination, balance, strength and flexibility.
4. Developmental Delays
Developmental delays occur when children don't reach certain milestones within an expected time frame. From birth and throughout childhood, children gradually develop skills such as the following:
- Lifting and supporting their own heads
- Grabbing, gripping and holding objects
- Sitting up without assistance
- Placing objects in their mouths
- Pulling themselves up
- Placing weight on their legs to stand
- Walking along while holding onto furniture
- Walking independently
- Holding their own bottles, feeding themselves finger foods and using utensils
- Catching and throwing
Children typically reach these milestones by certain ages. While some children may reach different milestones slightly earlier or later than others, a significant delay may indicate your child could benefit from pediatric physical therapy.
A pediatric physical therapist can help your child reach developmental milestones by planning gross motor activities for them to practice. Through physical therapy play activities, your child can improve their motor skills and reach developmental milestones they may need support with.
5. Muscle Disease
Gene mutations can cause muscular dystrophy, which is also known as muscle disease. This disease gradually weakens the muscles and decreases mobility, and it can hinder a child's ability to complete everyday tasks. Doctors may recommend PT for your child's flexibility and strength. If your child has muscular dystrophy, pediatric physical therapy could help them in the following ways:
- Reduce or prevent muscle stiffness
- Increase your child's tolerance of daily tasks and activities
- Reduce or prevent joint contractures
- Improve or maintain muscle strength and cardiorespiratory health
- Develop emotional and social health
While physical therapy can increase your child's strength, it can also have significant social and emotional benefits. A physical therapist can help your child adapt to school and home activities so they can participate in fun activities with their peers, friends and family. Physical therapy for muscular dystrophy may include some or all of the following exercises:
- Physical fitness activities
- Active and passive stretching
- Strength exercises
- Developmental skills exercises
- Breathing exercises
6. Genetic Disorders
Pediatric physical therapy may help children with genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome increase strength and develop skills safely. Down Syndrome is a condition that causes ligament looseness, decreased strength and low muscle tone.
If your child has Down Syndrome, they can most likely complete the same tasks and participate in the same activities as other children, but they may experience movement inefficiencies and foot pain due to loose ligaments and low muscle tone. Pediatric physical therapists help children with Down Syndrome learn safe and efficient movement patterns as they develop motor skills.
Learning and practicing efficient movement patterns can help your child support their body as they learn motor skills and prevent putting any unnecessary stress on the body.
7. Birth Defects
Birth defects are structural differences that occur before, during or after birth, and they can affect any part of a child's body. A birth defect affects the body's function or appearance, and it can impact both in some cases. If your child has a birth defect, pediatric physical therapy could help them build strength and reduce muscle weakness.
Cerebral Palsy is a condition that affects movement and postures in various degrees. Pediatric physical therapy helps many children with Cerebral Palsy increase their posture, strength and motor control. If your child has Cerebral Palsy, pediatric physical therapy can expand the range of activities they can participate in.
Erb palsy and spina bifida are other birth defects that may require physical therapy. Spina bifida causes spinal cord and nerve damage, and Erb palsy causes arm paralysis due to nerve damage. Pediatric physical therapy can help children with these conditions improve their movements and reduce or prevent long-term complications.
Pediatric physical therapists sometimes focus on brain or nerve damage rather than muscle damage. Some birth defects can damage a child's nerves or parts of their brain. Repetitive exercises can help children get used to working their muscles and develop familiarity in the brain. The repetition and resulting familiarity help them continue movements independently.
Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spine to curve sideways. The spine naturally curves, but scoliosis causes an abnormal C-shaped or S-shaped curve. Mild cases of scoliosis may require regular medical checkups, while more serious cases may require surgery or back braces. Children with scoliosis may have irregular posture, back pain and difficulty breathing.
Uneven shoulder blades, hips and ribcages are visible signs of scoliosis, but doctors can diagnose this condition using x-rays. Scoliosis can occur due to genes, cell structure changes, hormones, injuries, neuromuscular diseases, tumors and genetic diseases.
Pediatric physical therapy is beneficial for children with scoliosis because it can help to reduce symptoms. Physical therapy and back braces are non-surgical treatments that can help children reduce pain and function more independently. If your child has scoliosis, pediatric physical therapy may help them do the following:
- Increase their muscle strength
- Learn how to control their posture independently
- Improve posture
- Increase trunk balance
- Reduce pain and learn how to manage their pain
- Learn how to prevent further spinal curve progression
Torticollis causes the neck muscles to tighten and twist, which forces the head to tilt and rotate at an unusual angle. Infants can develop torticollis in the uterus if they are in an abnormal position. Individuals can also develop torticollis if an injury, a viral infection, slipped facets, herniated disks or any vigorous movement irritates the cervical ligaments.
Children may also develop torticollis if they sleep in awkward positions or experience a neck muscle injury during birth, a burn injury or any injury that causes muscle shrinkage or significant scarring. If your child has torticollis, you may notice the following signs:
- Back pain concentrated in the spine
- Neck muscle pain
- Unusual chin position
- Head tilting to one side
- Holding the head to one side and struggling to turn it
- Neck muscle spasms
If a doctor determines your child has torticollis, they may recommend treatments such as medicine, heat therapy, a neck collar, ultrasound therapy, surgery and physical therapy. Pediatric physical therapy may help a child with torticollis accomplish the following:
- Improve their ability to turn their head from side to side
- Develop the ability to bring their chin to their chest
- Lift their head while lying on their stomach
- Orient their head to midline
- Bear and shift weight normally over upper extremities
- Use upper extremities symmetrically
- Properly shift weight during physical activities such as creeping, walking, sitting and rolling
10. Chronic Pain
Children may experience chronic pain for one or more different reasons. Chronic pain can occur due to disorders, injuries or diseases. Pediatric physical therapy can help eliminate or reduce chronic pain for children. A physical therapist can help your child manage chronic pain with fun activities that incorporate stretching, strengthening and movement.
Children experience chronic pain at different levels for various reasons, so physical therapists use their specialized skills to evaluate each child they work with. They then use evidence-based practices to develop the best physical therapy plan for each situation.
Contact Premier Pediatric Therapy to Learn More
Pediatric physical therapy helps children live with more range of motion and less pain. It can ease recovery from injuries, prevent further progression of certain medical conditions and help children reach important developmental milestones. Your child can enjoy fun movement activities while improving their physical abilities at Premier Pediatric Therapy.
Our caring and experienced physical therapists can work with your child to help them reach goals, reduce pain, manage their symptoms and develop their motor skills. We will evaluate your child's condition and physical abilities to create a treatment plan that best meets their needs. Contact Premier Pediatric Therapy to learn more about physical therapy and how it can support your child's health and development, or request an appointment to start your child's physical therapy journey.