Pediatric physical therapists (PTs) specialize in helping children with injuries or disabilities improve their functional mobility—thus allowing them to move more normally and achieve a better quality of life. These highly specialized PTs treat a wide variety of age ranges, including babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, and even young adults. Here’s what you should know about pediatric PT:
The First Visit
A child’s first PT appointment will involve a thorough physical evaluation. During this exam, the PT looks at the way the child moves. In more technical terms, he or she will evaluate range of motion, muscle and joint function, posture, balance, mobility, and even feeding and oral motor skills. If the child has an assistive device, the PT also will evaluate how well the child is able to use his or her device.
Next, the PT will develop a plan of care that suits the child’s needs. As part of that plan, the child typically will receive a set of guided exercises to perform at home (in addition to the exercises he or she completes during office visits) to assist the patient in reaching his or her mobility goals. With young patients, family involvement in the plan of care is crucially important—especially when it comes to completing these home exercises.
After a child has undergone an initial evaluation, he or she will begin a routine of regular office visits. A typical pediatric PT appointment might involve the child performing therapist-led exercises and receiving functional training to restore strength, mobility, coordination, and balance. This type of visit can take place in a hospital, outpatient clinic, care center, or even the patient’s home. The PT also might perform manual modalities like massage or ultrasound to reduce pain and inflammation. If the child has a complex disorder or injury, the therapist might also work with other specialists like speech and occupational therapists to provide a multidisciplinary approach to therapy care.
It’s always a good idea to research providers before deciding on the one who’s the best fit for your family. Most importantly, you’ll want to find a therapist who specializes in working with children. That’s because pediatric therapists receive extensive instruction in their specialty—and that education allows them to provide your child with quality care specific to his or her needs. In general, PTs complete several years of coursework to become functional experts, and pediatric PTs are required to have specialized training that extends beyond the required doctorate degree.
From initial evaluation to discharge—and during every appointment in between—a pediatric PT works with the ultimate goal of helping your child. And that help—in the form of guided exercise, manual modalities, and home care—gives the child a better chance of reaching his or her maximum level of functional independence.