The benefits of pediatric physical therapy

When most people think of children needing physical therapy, they think of a child using it to heal from a broken arm or leg, or another injury. Yet physical therapy is a highly effective, non-invasive means of helping heal and support a myriad of medical and even developmental issues. The American Physical Therapy Association lists the following as circumstances in which physical therapy can be beneficial:

• Developmental activities

• Movement and mobility

• Strengthening

• Motor learning

• Balance and coordination

• Recreation, play, and leisure

• Adaptation of daily care activities and routines

• Equipment design, fabrication, and fitting

• Tone management

• Use of assistive technology

• Posture, positioning, and lifting

• Orthotics and prosthetics

• Burn and wound care

• Cardiopulmonary endurance

• Safety, health promotion, and prevention programs

One of the caveats of having your child go to physical therapy, however, is that you have to attend often multiple times a week — which can be challenging to fit into an often already-packed schedule for parents and children. When you have other siblings thrown into the mix, it can become quite a feat to take your child to appointments three times a week. Yet, there are physical therapists who make home visits, and not only say that the physical therapy exercises are only part of the treatment, but that the family also plays a large part of recovery and treatment.

Physical therapists Sonia Miller and Ainelou David from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York say that when you ask most parents what comes to mind when they think about pediatric physical therapy, “you’re likely to hear about softball, horse riding, or bicycle injuries that send children to the ER or physical therapy outpatient programs for several carpool-disrupting weeks.” Yet, pediatric physical therapy—especially the kind offered in the home—is much more than that, and here’s why:

Pediatric physical therapy is not just for sports injuries. When a doctor prescribes physical therapy for a child, the diagnosis can be multifaceted and complex. In addition to common sports or playground injuries, pediatric physical therapists provide rehabilitation for children born with muscle or skeletal conditions, respiratory illness, blindness, cancer, and other health challenges.

Exercises are tailored specifically for children. To keep a child engaged throughout the rehabilitation process, pediatric physical therapists often use games or age-appropriate props to make the therapeutic process fun and encourage adherence to a prescribed therapeutic care plan.

Parents should be involved in the treatment sessions. It’s vital that a parent is involved in the treatment process for a variety of reasons. Not only does parental participation help to ensure that prescribed exercises actually get done, it can also help reassure a child who frets at frequent trips to the doctor’s office. The idea of pediatric rehab can make some parents uncomfortable at first, but it’s often worth the effort.

Therapy provides comfort for both the patient and the parent. Sometimes physical therapy is used to help strengthen the spirit as much as the body.

Home is where the heart is. David has a particularly personal connection to her role as a pediatric physical therapist working in homecare. “As a mother, I appreciate getting that extra special touch of care at home—if my child were sick, that’s where I would be all the time, keeping her comfortable and confident, until she can safely step back into her daily routine without me.”

Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram