Physical therapy is a healthcare profession concerned with helping people of all ages to better move their bodies all environments and situations. For children, this typically means playing, learning, exploring, climbing, riding, and moving around obstacles in their environment. Pediatric physical therapy assists in early detection of health problems and uses a wide variety of modalities to treat disorders in the pediatric population. These therapists are specialized in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of infants, children, and adolescents with a variety of congenital, developmental, neuromuscular, skeletal, or acquired disorders/diseases. Treatments focus on improving gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, strength and endurance as well as cognitive and sensory processing/integration. Children with developmental delays, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and autism are a few of the patients treated by pediatric physical therapists.
A PT challenges each child based on his or her unique interests to build strength, joint mobility, range of motion, endurance and the ability to use muscles together around joints and in the trunk. PT's work on skills that allow a child to physically master the following tasks:
Children are driven to move higher against gravity. Sometimes they can't master the control needed to stay safe and avoid falling. This can be due to weakness or confusion about how to interpret where their body is in relation to their support. A PT can help identify the underlying problem with the balance control and help strengthen or increase awareness to lead the child toward greater success in their motor exploration.
Children love to climb and explore pushing and pulling toys. Once they can successfully get onto a toy, they will then try to move the toy using rocking, pushing and shifting their weight. If a child is avoiding climbing or unable to succeed, a PT can help determine the root cause of their challenges. They can attend to strength, range of motion and motor coordination to help the child gain motor skills higher off the floor and on objects they can move.
A child needs to learn how to coordinate movement in their heads, arms, legs, and trunk to successfully get in and out of bed, the bathtub, the car, their chair, etc. They must learn how to stay balanced when they try to open and move through a heavy door and when they open the refrigerator. When a child is not stable in their legs and trunk, they aren't able to do these types of tasks. A PT can help them learn to stay stable in their legs and gain strength for transfers.
Children can hit, kick, throw at a target, shoot a ball and catch using coordination of visual and motor skills. Some children have difficulty learning to understand distances and force for many of these skills. A PT can help determine if this is due to balance deficits, coordination problems, depth perception, strength, or a combination of many of these pieces.
Children learn many motor skills such as skipping, standing on one leg, climbing up and down stairs, hopping on one and two feet, galloping, rolling, somersaults, and jumping. These foundational motor skills support the child's ability to play on playgrounds and in sporting activities. They also allow the child to successfully move toys in their environment to invent other motor experiences. By playing with their motor control they gain confidence and a greater awareness of many concepts that will help their future learning in reading, math, and science. By experiencing things with their physical body, they can relate concepts taught later in their development. Even if a child can't move independently in these ways, a PT can help them have experiences that allow them to learn about their 3-dimesional world.
Throughout life, the patterns of motor control we use affect the muscles that are strengthened and the alignment of our joints. When a child is using poorly aligned patterns to move they will develop muscle contractures and joint limitations. More importantly, the human being's boney system changes from infancy to adulthood. These changes must occur to insure the joint stability of the spine, shoulders, and major weight bearing structures. If this doesn't occur, the joints may collapse and fail to support the structure and weight of the body throughout the individual's lifespan. PT's work to address specific alignment and strength deficiencies or imbalances through a variety of therapeutic activities.