What is Pediatric Physical therapy?

Pediatric physical therapy is a specialized area of treatment aimed at addressing a child’s gross motor development and maximizing a child’s ability to move about their environment independently. Pediatric physical therapists use the general principles of physical therapy and apply them in the context of a child’s development. Treatment strategies include exercises that target strengthening, postural alignment, balance, and coordination to improve a child’s ability to explore their environment. Physical therapists specialize in gross motor skills, which are big movements that use your entire body and require the large muscles of the arms, torso, and legs. Some examples of gross motor movements include: rolling, crawling, walking, running, and jumping.

Pediatric physical therapists provide treatment to children experiencing developmental delays. A developmental delay is diagnosed when a child is not able to achieve a gross motor activity that is expected based on their age. For instance, children typically walk around 12 months of age. If a child is not able to walk independently by that age, physical therapy can help work on balance, coordination, and strengthening to help the child achieve this gross motor milestone. Other children have more difficulty with higher level coordination, such as completing jumping jacks or navigating stairs with an alternating foot pattern, and physical therapists can help improve the coordination needed for these activities.

Pediatric physical therapists specialize in treating neurological disorders. This includes children born with cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, seizure disorders, or other congenital conditions. Children born with a neurological condition often experience increased muscle tone, which causes stiffness in their limbs and difficulty controlling their movement patterns. For this population, pediatric physical therapists can address optimal positioning strategies, range of motion to prevent muscle contractures, adaptive equipment including orthotics and wheelchairs, and general strengthening to maximize a child’s mobility.

Another common condition that pediatric physical therapists specialize in treating is gait deviations. Pediatric physical therapists can help correct toe-walking by providing range of motion and targeted strengthening activities to help normalize gait. Pediatric physical therapists can also help correct the gait of children that walk with in-toeing, or with a pigeon-toed gait. Physical therapists can also help improve the coordination and balance of a child that falls frequently when running or walking.

Finally, pediatric physical therapists are also trained to treat orthopedic conditions, such as anterior knee pain, rehabilitation following a fracture/broken bone, back pain, or and sports-related injuries.

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