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“Isn’t physical therapy just for athletes and adults in recovery?” Nope! Sometimes, children and even babies need physical therapy, too. You might not give a second thought to walking up the stairs or picking up a drink. But for a child with an injury or delay in development, those simple tasks can be a real challenge.

smiling therapist with baby sitting on ballThat’s where a pediatric physical therapist can help.

What is a Pediatric Physical Therapist?

If your child needs physical therapy, they’ll work with a pediatric physical therapist (PT). Typically, pediatric PTs treat kids under 18, from newborns to teenagers. They see children for a variety of different reasons, including bone/muscle issues, sports-related injuries, or genetic, brain, spine, or nerve disorders.

PTs have years of training, and some even earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

What Does a Pediatric Physical Therapist do?

Pediatric PTs help kids improve their range of motion, strength, flexibility, and movement patterns. The goal? Help children move their bodies how and when they want to the best of their abilities. Pediatric PTs help make everyday activities easier for kids.

What Will My Child Do in a Physical Therapy Session?

For the most part, pediatric physical therapy sessions should look and feel like play. PTs engage kids with fun, age-appropriate games and activities to keep them motivated and happy. (Kids should have fun, but physical therapy can be hard work!)

PTs help improve gross motor skills (tasks that involve large muscle groups, like walking and throwing) by encouraging kids to do things like:

  • Play on large exercise balls to build strength
  • Run/hop around to improve their coordination
  • Balance on a balance beam
  • Stand on one foot

A PT can also suggest activities to do with your child at home.

Does My Child Need to See a Pediatric Physical Therapist?

PTs can help kids with many issues, including:

  • Recovery from sports- and non-sports-related injuries
  • Delays in development, such as a child who should be walking
  • Not hitting the milestones for their age
  • Genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
  • Muscle weakness or imbalances
  • Poor coordination and/or motor planning – which is the ability to think of and carry out a motor act, such as writing with a pencil
  • Nerve/muscle conditions, such as cerebral palsy

During an initial visit, a PT will check your child’s strength, development, and see how easily they can stand, walk, and complete tasks appropriate for their age to see if there is a delay. If there is a delay, they also determine the degree and potential cause of the delay. From there, a PT will work with you and your child to figure out a treatment plan.

If you have concerns about your child’s development and think they could benefit from physical therapy, make sure to talk to your healthcare professional. And remember most clinics offer a free 15 minute screening.