Pediatric Physical Therapy
April 3rd, 2019
Find the right physical therapist for your little one.
It’s an unfortunate reality that children every day are born with or diagnosed with debilitating illnesses that usually stay with them their whole lives. Just like pediatric medicine, the physical therapist working with your child should specialize in pediatric physical therapy. They may also work on a team of physical therapists in different fields. Pediatric cases that require multiple physiotherapists are usually more severe and complicated, just like cases that require multiple physicians or surgeons.
There are many different kinds of physical therapy in general, which means there are many kinds of pediatric physical therapy. Everything that adults need, a child may need as well in a modified way. Also, with a variety of illnesses that are specific to pediatric patients, there are also specifics one would have to have knowledge of outside of regular physical therapy designed for adults. Also, since children vary greatly case by case, it’s a good idea to have someone specializing in children there to customize the care plan for your child’s specific needs.
Because of this, the American Physical Therapy Association has its own dedicated division for pediatric physical therapy.1 The Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy also offers courses, residencies, and fellowships for physical therapists who want to become specialized in pediatric physical therapy.2 Some of these courses may even begin before they are finished becoming physical therapists.
So, we’ve made a pretty convincing case why someone specializing in pediatric patients is the best choice for a physiotherapist for your child; but what kind of physical therapy would your little one need? That all depends on the injury or condition, symptoms, age, and a variety of other factors.
However, there are many fields of physical therapy for children and adolescents, just as there are for adults, to help meet the needs of each specific illness. The same exercises that are beneficial to children with Scoliosis are probably not going to be useful for children with Cerebral Palsy. This is where other specialities of physical therapy cross paths and work in correlation with pediatric physical therapy.
Orthopaedic Physical Therapy
For pediatric patients, orthopaedic physical therapy usually either helps deal with a congenital defect that affects the musculoskeletal system (their muscles and bones) or to deal with injuries or traumas from an event such as a car accident. Orthopaedic physical therapy would be the most effective method for treating children with a variety of conditions, including:
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Spina Bifida
- Limb Defects
“Orthopedic physical therapy is the study and practice of correcting functional impairments of the musculoskeletal system. Pediatric orthopaedic physical therapy extends this discipline to the developmental care of children by taking into account their future growth.”3 So, not only is the goal to correct existing problems but to avoid future problems from the existing problem as the child grows.
Because pediatric patients have muscles and bones that are not fully developed, working with them incorrectly can cause serious harm. This is why it is important to be working with someone who specializes in children when dealing with a course of treatment that could alter the rest of their lives.
Different from adult physical therapy, the goal is usually to get the child up, recovering, and resuming their normal daily activities as soon as possible. This is often different from adult physical therapy which will take a more “slow and steady” approach. The reason for this difference is very simple: Being able to play, be active, and engage in normal children’s activities to whatever degree they are able is very important to a child’s development. For more information, visit this article by Wright Physical Therapy, The Role and Benefits of Pediatric Orthopedic Physical Therapy.
Sports Physical Therapy
Sports physical therapy is a special kind of orthopaedic physical therapy. Children who are athletes are likely to get some kind of injury sometime during their little league careers. It is important to be working with a sports physical therapist who understands children’s growing bones and muscles and knows how to address them differently. If your physical therapist doesn’t have that training, it may be best to seek out someone with speciality training in paediatrics when your little one gets a serious sports injury.
Healing incorrectly after a childhood sports injury can be detrimental. If a muscle or bone injury does not heal correctly, it may cause problems for the child’s entire life. This may even cause chronic pain and require interventional pain management. This is why it is critical to work a physical therapy program that is specific to children to avoid long-term injury.
Neurological Physical Therapy
While neurological physical therapy may include similar exercises to other forms of physical therapy, it is a different application. Some exercises may be beneficial across a variety of patients, but some are very specific to certain areas of the body. Neurological physical therapy is normally for children born neurological birth defects or who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.4 Some conditions in children that may require neurological physical therapy are:
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
- Cerebral Palsy
- Spina Bifida
Strokes also look different in children than in adults. Visit this article from the National Stroke Association for more information on how to better recognize and get treatment for pediatric stroke. Strokes can also happen to a fetus in the womb due to certain complications of carrying and treating that stoke postpartum will likely call for physical therapy at some point throughout their lifetime.
It may also be noted that Spina Bifida is listed as employing orthopaedic physical therapy as well. This is because Spina Bifida affects the development of both the spinal column and the spinal cord. For this reason, depending on the severity, Spina Bifida may require both neurological and orthopaedic physical therapy, since the condition can vary from very mild to severe and debilitating.
Appropriate Medical SupervisionIt is important to note that if your child is suffering from a condition that requires neurological physical therapy that it be prescribed by a neurologist. While a very useful part of your child’s overall treatment plan, a physical therapist in any speciality is not a physician or a substitute for one.
This not only helps you get the best care for your child but the best answers to your questions. Questions like: “Will my child ever walk?” or, “How long will my child be in therapy?” are best answered by people who went to medical school. Physical therapists, while highly specialized and vitally important, do not have the diagnostic expertise to answer these kinds of questions. A physical therapist may be able to offer a very educated guess in many cases, but a physical therapist typically follows a prescription from a doctor.
However, a doctor is not a replacement for a physical therapist either. Physicians don’t have the specific training in how to implement exercise therapy, and physical therapists can modify the course of treatment to meet specific needs they are able to identify with their expertise.
When it comes to caring for your little one, there is no such thing as too many people on the team. While not a replacement for a physician, having a pediatric physical therapist aboard your child’s case to help manage care if it is an option, it’s an option that you should take.
Physical therapy can and does improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of children across the world. If it can benefit your little one, then it should. Talk to your paediatrician, and see if your child would benefit from pediatric physical therapy.