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Demystifying Pediatric Physical Therapy

Over the years when I tell people I’m a pediatric physical therapist, I’m often met with the following reply,


Baby working on stretching and flexibility.

“Babies and kids need physical therapy?”



The answer is yes! Sometimes they do! And when they do, I’m here to help them!



Now, to answer the question behind the question,

“Why do babies and kids need physical therapy?”


Babies and children are no different than you and I in that, they may have experiences that make moving their body difficult or uncomfortable. When this happens, and babies and children are unable to move well, they can’t do their jobs well.

"Their jobs? Babies and kids have jobs?"


In fact they do!


Baby in partial side sitting and playing with train

Babies and children’s jobs are to play and explore the world around them in order to learn, grow and enjoy life!


Although young, babies and children that may benefit from pediatric physical therapy are those with:

  • traumatic birth history

  • torticollis (head tilt or head turn preference)

  • plagiocephaly or other head shape concerns

  • low or high tone

  • NICU or extensive hospital stay

  • hip dysplasia

  • premature birth

  • reflux, colic, constipation

  • tongue or oral ties

  • medical or movement diagnosis

  • delayed milestones

  • decreased coordination

  • anatomical concerns (leg length discrepancy, “knock” or “bow” legs, etc)

  • neurological diagnosis

  • asymmetrical movement patterns

If a baby or child has, or is experiencing any of the above, chances are she is either uncomfortable or has difficulty moving her body.


As a pediatric physical therapist, I have unique education and training geared to assess the body and its ability to function and move. Once an assessment is performed, I then create a skilled and tailored treatment plan to each child, so she can move to her maximum potential allowing her to learn, explore and play!

Now that we’ve learned why babies and children may need physical therapy, you may be wondering, what does a PT session look like?

“Do you make babies and kids do exercises?”


Again, the answer is yes! However it’s probably not what you’re thinking!


As a pediatric physical therapist I can’t ask a baby to do sit-ups or ask a child to give me 2 sets of 10 squats. So instead, this is where we get to be creative and have FUN!


Through body work, intentional play and strategic positioning, I create ENJOYABLE ways for babies and children to gain:

  • flexibility

  • movement

  • strength

  • motor coordination

  • motor planning

  • developmental skills

Here's a simple example!


Scenario: You have a baby that can prop sit (sit with arm support aka tripod sitting) but is not yet sitting tall (without hands on ground) or transitioning from sitting to his belly.


After assessing quality of movement, a pediatric physical therapist may perform body work, stretching and/or activities targeting specific muscle groups and movement patterns. The therapist will also likely have your child perform more difficult activities and skills that require the hands and training of a skilled physical therapist.


Once this is complete, a pediatric physical therapist will work hand-in-hand with parents on a few simple activities or positions (like the ones below) that parents can carry on at home during the week, to continue progression of milestones!


Here are 3 examples of intentional play for parents to work on at home!


1) Place activity board in front of baby to encourage baby to sit up tall!

Baby working on upright sitting at push toy.

2) Place baby on his tummy over your leg, with his hands on the ground. Place toys on the ground around him. This will encourage him to work on arm, chest and back strength needed to be able to slowly lower himself from sitting to lying on his belly.


3) Place baby in side sitting for play! In order to get from sitting to lying on his belly, baby will first transition to side sitting and then place arms down to lower himself.



Still have questions about pediatric physical therapy?


Please comment below OR reach out to your nearest pediatric physical therapist!


If this was helpful, please comment below!

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