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  • Writer's pictureDr. Savannah Wise, PT, DPT

What is Pediatric Physical Therapy?

Let’s start out by just defining Physical Therapy. What does a Physical Therapist (PT) do? A PT is a musculoskeletal and movement expert! We work with people of all ages, with various conditions ranging from injuries, surgeries, chronic pain, strokes, coordination and balance issues, walking difficulties, and endurance issues. Our goal is to give our patients the most freedom and independence with mobility, so they can live their life to the fullest. Sounds great, but that doesn’t sound super relatable to babies and kids. Let's dig a little further.

Pediatric Physical Therapy has the same overarching theme: gain independence and freedom with mobility, but it does look a little different. We start by looking at “how” your baby moves. Are they using both arms and legs? Do they sit in a slumped posture? Are they always looking to one side? Is the movement symmetrical? We look at gross motor milestones (rolling, sitting, crawling, walking), reflexes, coordination, and postural/motor control to see what might be hindering their movements. PTs look at how your baby is moving and then determine why. One of the most important pieces to our assessment is the parent interview. This is where we really learn about the history of your baby, and more importantly, your concerns. Just like adults, not all babies are the same. So listening to the parent’s story and concerns (whether it be a complicated birth or feeding difficulties early on), is crucial to building out a perfect plan for your baby/child.

What does a pediatric PT session look like? To the outsider, it might look like we’re just playing with your baby. Halfway true, but not the full picture. We call it “purposeful play” and this means, while we may be playing with a musical toy, we are absolutely working on something else at the same time. Maybe it’s standing balance, maybe it’s core stability because we have them sitting on a peanut ball, or maybe it’s just reaching with their weak side. Bottom line, EVERYTHING has a purpose.

Being a new parent, or even an old parent, can be overwhelming at times. Can you say information overload??? If you have a concern about your baby/child’s mobility, it’s crucial to seek expert movement advice right away. Babies grow at such a rapid rate, that even a 2 month delay in getting help can be the difference in independent sitting or not. That’s not to scare you, but to encourage you to listen to your gut and get help early on! The earlier we can see our kiddos with slight delays or issues, the faster and easier we can “fix” those bad habits that are forming.

Now you might be wondering, what things should I be looking for that might indicate my baby/child needs PT?

  • Birth injuries or surgeries

  • Flat spot on their head or always looking to one side

  • Floppy baby (weak muscles)

  • Super strong baby or muscles feel tight

  • Poor posture in sitting or standing

  • Delay in hitting age appropriate milestones

  • “Lazy” baby

  • Prefers to W sit

  • Clumsy child or frequently falling

  • Toe walking

This is a short list, but if you want a more specific/detailed list of “red flags” to look for at each age, be sure to download our “Red Flag Checklist.” This will really help guide you, if you’re wondering what’s normal at a certain age.

The best recommendation I can give, is to seek out a consultation or wellness exam from a pediatric PT if you have concerns. We can easily determine whether or not your child may need guided intervention, or provide you with some quick exercises to do now, to help your child along on their mobility journey.

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