Physical therapy for your children is part of what we do here at On the Mend Physical Therapy where we treat the whole family from infants to great-grandparents—where your kids and teens receive the best of care.
Pediatric physical therapists (PTs) are highly specialized healthcare professionals who focus on treating children of a variety of age ranges, from babies and toddlers to adolescents and teenagers. Because these young patients are constantly growing, their musculoskeletal makeup differs from that of an adult patient. Thus, it’s important for pediatric patients (and their caregivers) to seek care from a physical therapy provider who is familiar with child development. Generally speaking, pediatric therapists have received special training beyond the standard physical therapy doctoral program.
During a child’s first appointment with a pediatric therapist, the therapist will perform a thorough evaluation of the patient’s range of motion, muscle and joint strength and flexibility, balance, mobility, and feeding and oral motor function, if appropriate. If the child uses an assistive device, the evaluation will account for that.
The PT will then develop a care plan that will include in-office visits—during which the child will receive various manual therapy interventions and complete guided exercises—as well as a home exercise program. It’s important that the child’s parent or caregiver become familiar with this program, as it is crucial to the child’s timely progress. Some children may require care from other therapy professionals such as speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or occupational therapists (OTs). In these cases, the PT will collaborate with these other professionals to provide a multidisciplinary care program.
Pediatric PTs are uniquely qualified to provide treatment for the following:
Gait training: Gait disturbances and abnormalities can affect joint alignment, posture, and walking patterns. Left untreated, this may cause pain, balance, and mobility issues that will impact a child’s ability to participate in everyday activities. Gait training—often with the use of treadmills and orthotics—can significantly improve a child’s ability to walk, with or without the use of an assistive device (e.g., a cane or walker).
Torticollis: In young patients, torticollis presents as the tendency to tilt the head toward one side of the body and rotate it to the other side. This is accompanied with pain and difficulty straightening the neck. The most common type of torticollis—congenital muscular torticollis (CMT)—manifests within the first two months of a child’s life. It is caused by the tightening and weakening of the muscle that extends from the collarbone toward the back of the neck. To treat this condition, a pediatric physical therapist will develop a plan of care that addresses strength deficiencies and imbalances in the neck muscles, improves alignment and range of motion, and increases postural control and symmetry. Therapy techniques may include gentle stretching and massage, guidance on infant positioning, muscle taping, and a home exercise program.
Toe-walking: In a normal walking pattern, the heel hits the ground first. However, some children may develop a walking pattern in which the toe maintains contact with the ground, resulting in pain, balance and coordination issues, and tightness/stiffness in the calves and ankles. In some cases, this condition is associated with another diagnosis (e.g., autism or cerebral palsy). In other cases, there is no clear cause for the toe-walking. If toe-walking hinders a child’s ability to participate in daily activities, physical therapy treatment may help. A pediatric PT will use stretching, strengthening, gait training, and motor planning and coordination to help mitigate the effects of toe-walking.
Youth sports injuries: Children who participate in recreational and competitive sports are especially prone to both acute injuries and overuse injuries. Acute injuries—including broken bones and sprains—often require immediate medical attention (and in some cases, surgery) as well as long-term rehabilitation with a physical therapist. Overuse injuries tend to occur over time as the result of repetitive stress on tendons, muscles, and joints. These often stem from strength and mobility deficiencies or improper biomechanics—both of which can be addressed through a physical therapy plan of care. Pediatric therapists are trained to identify the cause of injury, taking into account the various stages of musculoskeletal growth and development in a child athlete. These therapists can also develop preventative plans of care to help youth athletes avoid overuse injury altogether.