Physical Therapy for the Pediatric Population

Ryan LaCorte Erin Sullivan, Publications

How Can Physical Therapy Help My Child?


Range of motion and flexibility differ from that of an adult so special considerations should be kept in mind when treating the pediatric population. When a child experiences an injury, treatment may vary considerably versus an adult, particularly in the event of growth plate involvement. These Injuries, and the natural growth and development of a child can significantly impact their ability to reach motor milestones. Growth spurts may also impact how and/or when they evolve their gross motor skills.

Meeting Motor Milestones

Children may have difficulty reaching their motor mile stones for a number of reasons. These milestones act as stepping stones for a child to progress towards more complex, functional activities. If children are delayed in reaching these milestones, they may also have difficulty participating in school-based, recreational, or age specific activities.

Sensory Processing

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or other conditions which impact sensory processing, can also benefit from skilled physical therapy services. A child’s perception of sensory input may impact their functional and gross motor ability as well as their behavior. These senses include sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, vestibular (balance), and what is known as proprioceptive or the perception of one’s own body, detected by the nervous system. It is possible that children may be over sensitive or under sensitive to sensory input, and it is important that their treatment be focused regarding their specific needs.

What to expect

A licensed physical therapist will take a detailed history from you and your child regarding current or ongoing complaints. Your therapist will then complete a thorough evaluation, often through observation as well as objective measurements to determine whether your child is performing at an age appropriate level. Measures of joint range of motion, flexibility, and strength will also be assessed as part of the evaluation. The therapist will then discuss their findings with you and make recommendations regarding their plan of care. Your child may attend therapy sessions anywhere from once a week to three times per week depending on the outcome of your child’s evaluation.

Treatment will be specific for each individual child and will be focused on age-appropriate, child-driven activities with integrated therapeutic play to address the child’s goals.

Where can I find pediatric physical therapy?

Pediatric physical therapy is available in a number of different settings. Children with developmental delays from infancy up to three years of age, in New Jersey, may be eligible for a federally funded program called Early Intervention. School-based physical therapy is also available in some cases and focuses on the child’s ability to access and participate in the school setting. Medical-model physical therapy is available in the hospital-based, home-based or outpatient setting, like All Care Physical Therapy Center. Medical-model physical therapy will address a child’s global needs including the ability to participate in the home or community (due to injury or gross motor delays). Many children may benefit from physical therapy on an outpatient basis, in addition to receiving school based therapy services. Parents are encouraged to discuss any concerns and treatment options with your child’s pediatrician or physician.

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