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Pediatric Physical Therapy: Is It Right For My Child?

February 12th, 2023 | 4 min. read

Pediatric Physical Therapy: Is It Right For My Child?
Ally Edwards

Ally Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Lead EW Yoga Instructor // EW Pilates Instructor // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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Every parent wants their child to succeed in whatever they want to do. If their child is expressing a desire to try something new, like a new sport or after-school activity, most parents will try to find a way to help their child pursue that interest. However, some sports can cause injuries, especially contact sports like soccer or football. Also, some children are born with medical conditions that can make trying new things more difficult, like new sports or physical activities. For those kids, simply learning to walk without assistance can be difficult. So what can parents do to help? 


A great first step if you are concerned about your child is to discuss your concerns with your child’s pediatrician and ask whether physical therapy is right for them. For some children, particularly those with movement difficulties, physical therapy can be a great solution to instill healthy movement patterns early in life. At EW Motion Therapy, we see many young athletes with orthopedic injuries, like sprained ankles or hurt shoulders, and we can develop a rehab program that is individualized to their needs and helps them get back to their sport or favorite activities. We can also refer to other physical therapists who can provide more specialized care. We want you, as a parent, to feel confident in your child’s treatment, even if you decide our services do not fit your needs. 


Read on for our discussion of which physical therapists can work with children, when a child should go to physical therapy, comparing outpatient and pediatric facilities, and some of the benefits of physical therapy for children. 


Download our Physical Therapy Q&A Here!


Can any physical therapist work with children? 

While a physical therapist can be certified to perform services that children need more often, like making splints and casts, no specific educational track or certification is required for pediatric physical therapy. This means that depending on what your child needs, most physical therapists could help them move better. For example, if your 10-year-old son sprained his ankle playing soccer, any orthopedic physical therapist could help get him back on the field with a treatment progression and home exercise program. However, suppose your child has Down’s syndrome and needs help with fine motor skills. In that case, their pediatrician can refer you to an appropriate specialist or facility in your area, including a board-certified pediatric physical therapist.


One sub-specialty within pediatrics is called Early Intervention (EI), which a child could test into. It is a government-funded program in which a physical therapist (or an occupational/speech therapist) goes into a child’s home and effectively trains caregivers to provide essential services for the child. EI serves children between birth and three years old, and you can find the contact information for your state’s program here. Additionally, some public schools have physical therapy and occupational therapy programs.


When should a child go to physical therapy? 

Most children in physical therapy are referred to a specialist by their pediatrician. There are a couple of scenarios where a child might need physical therapy. The first is if a child is not meeting certain developmental milestones. The AAP and CDC outline different milestones young children should meet at certain ages, like rolling over, reaching for things, and crawling. If a parent or pediatrician is concerned about the rate at which a child is meeting those milestones, then a physical therapist could help promote healthy movement for the child. Each child develops and grows at a different rate, so parents need to trust the judgment of their child’s pediatrician when determining if physical therapy is required. 


Another scenario is if your child has a genetic or neurological condition that makes movement more complicated, like spina bifida or Down’s syndrome. For these children, a physical therapist could be instrumental in helping them perform basic everyday tasks and live independent lives as they grow. A physical therapist can also provide instructions and guidance for caregivers, so the child can continue progressing at home.


What are the main benefits of physical therapy for kids? 

Now you know more about how physical therapy works for children. Any child could benefit from physical therapy, especially those who might not meet developmental milestones or have preexisting conditions. For those children, physical therapy can instill healthy movement patterns, help with gross motor skills, and promote a lifetime of accomplishing activities of daily living. 


Every child deserves the best possible start in life, especially those with medical conditions that can complicate their daily routines. Early Intervention programs can be great for those kids, but for children with sports injuries or other orthopedic concerns, outpatient physical therapy can help them heal and return to their daily activities. If you are curious about what else physical therapy could do for your child, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently-asked physical therapy questions. 


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