What Is Pediatric Physical Therapy?

Pediatric physical therapy explained:

Unfortunately, children get injuries and birth defects. When injuries occur, pediatric physical therapy may be needed. So, what is pediatric physical therapy and what does a pediatric physical therapists do? While we will go into more detail later on, pediatric physical therapists can help children improve their range of motion, flexibility, strength, and movement patterns. The overall goal is to help children move their bodies to the best of their ability, especially if a disability is holding them back. Pediatric physical therapy is like any other type of physical therapy, but it’s designed for newborns to children under 18 years of age. Therapy can be used to treat injuries that affect the brain, spine, nervous system, and bones and muscles. Furthermore, it can help treat genetic conditions, developmental disorders, coordination issues, nerve and muscle conditions, and motor skill developmental issues. Keep reading as we learn why babies need physical therapy and all the benefits it can provide. We will also cover ways that you can help your baby in and out of therapy.

What does a pediatric physical therapist do?

A pediatric physical therapist is an educated professional that should start by meeting with you and your child for an assessment. Once issues have been addressed, they can develop a plan for treatment. The plan may include exercises and activities that will help the child reach developmental goals while improving everyday life. Most treatment plans will include regular sessions where exercises and tests will be done to monitor progress. As a parent or caregiver, you may need to incorporate exercises outside of therapy to expedite progress. In-office and at-home exercises may include:

  • Playing on large exercise balls to improve strength
  • Running and hopping around to boost coordination
  • Balancing on one foot or using a balance beam
  • Head control exercises
  • Gentle stretches and massage
  • Alternating hot and cold compresses on muscles and joints

Why would a baby need physical therapy?

Sometimes babies are born with defects or have developmental issues that may call for pediatric physical therapy. Here are some of the main reasons why baby physical therapy may be necessary.

Premature birth:

If a baby is born before the 37-week mark, they will be considered premature. Premature babies can face several developmental issues. For example, they may have nerve or muscle conditions such as cerebral palsy or they may have poor motor skills. Pediatric physical therapy can  help them improve their motor skills and coordination to make these conditions less severe.

Poor posture:

Another issue common in premature babies is poor posture. Many preemies will maintain a posture that keeps their shoulders up close to their ears. A pediatric physical therapist will gently massage the baby to push their shoulders down helping them develop proper posture.

Container baby syndrome:

Baby container syndrome can happen if babies spend too much time in containers such as car seats, strollers, bouncer seats, jumpers, etc. It can affect the shaping of the baby’s soft head. It also prevents them from moving their body around, so they don’t develop movement skills. Infant physical therapy will get the baby moving around, thus reversing the symptoms caused by spending too much time in containers.

Torticollis:

Torticollis is a condition that occurs when babies lay on one side for too long. It can cause a misshapen head. It can also weaken the neck which leads to movement and posture issues. A pediatric physical therapist will suggest neck strengthening exercises to ensure your baby’s neck can support its head and body.

Down syndrome:

Down syndrome can keep a child from hitting their developmental milestones. Pediatric physical therapy can help babies develop their motor skills and address other common Downs’ symptoms like poor posture and balance.

Spina bifida:

Spina bifida occurs when a child’s spine does not become fully developed. Infant physical therapy will provide exercises and activities that assist with walking, strength, and balance. They will help the child develop strength and flexibility so they can take part in everyday activities. 

What can pediatric physical therapy help treat?

  • Here are some other conditions pediatric physical therapy can help treat in babies and older children:
  • Sports and non-sports related injuries
  • Delays in development that cause babies to fall short on their milestones
  • Genetic disorders like Down syndrome
  • Muscle weakness
  • Imbalances
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor muscle skills
  • Nerve and muscle conditions like cerebral palsy

Why is physical therapy important for babies?

Babies are resilient and moldable, therefore it’s best to address any current or potential issues early on as they go through developmental stages.

As we get older, our bodies become more set in their ways. So, if a baby is born with issues that lead to poor posture, the posture will get worse as they get older. It will also be harder to reverse the issue.

If treatment occurs during infancy, it will set the child on a path for wellness that will stay with them the rest of their lives. It can also make them less likely to have severe symptoms long term.

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When should you seek infant physical therapy?

You should seek infant physical therapy if any of the following conditions apply to your baby:

  • Developmental milestones are delayed or missed
  • More reliant on one side of their body
  • Head is tilted more heavily to one side of the body
  • Balance issues are obvious
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of muscle tone
  • Limited mobility of joints
  • Diagnosis of conditions such as Down’s syndrome, Erb’s palsy, cerebral palsy, or torticollis

Developmental issues can be exhausting. From the extra effort to any sleeping discomfort or stress you and your baby may be losing sleep over these issues. Plenty of sleep is essential for the well being of you and your baby. Your physical therapists will also appreciate a well rested baby or child. To promote a good night sleep, try using a weighted swaddle, blanket, or sleep sack. Dreamland Baby specializes in weighted sleep products that can get your baby to sleep faster and keep them asleep longer, which equals more sleep for you too. After dealing with a restless baby, Tara Williams created Dreamland Baby weighted sleep products after putting them through the ultimate test with her own son.

Dream Weighted Sleep Swaddle, 0-6 months