Is Physical Therapy Safe For Children?

Physical therapy isn’t just safe for children – it’s hugely beneficial, too. Especially if your child has any mental or physical impairments, injuries, or chronic health conditions that may affect them achieving their full potential.

In that case, physical therapy is one of the greatest gifts you can give a growing child. 

Very few of us make it through childhood and into adulthood without sustaining at least one injury. So dealing with broken bones, sprains and strains is an expected part of parenting as your child explores the world around them.

And unless you stop them living and ban bike riding, soccer-playing, and gymnastics, you can’t prevent accidents from happening – no matter how hard you try.

All you can do is pick them and up, put them back together and support them to heal the best you can. Or suppose your child has a chronic health condition or mental or physical impairment.

In that case, you decide that you’ll give them the best possible start and do all you can to help them reach their full potential – to see adversity as a “challenge” to overcome. Right?

This blog explores the benefits of physical therapy for children, the medical conditions it can be effective for, and explains the necessary precautions to keep children safe and healthy.  

What Is Physical Therapy For Children?

Physical therapy is a non-invasive form of treatment for the physical body to restore and maintain the proper functioning of the spine, limbs, muscles, and joints.

Physical therapy sessions for children incorporate manipulations, gentle exercises, and other physical activities to help them gain, maintain or recover from impairments that hinder their abilities.

Subject to the child’s physical condition, the therapy can last for weeks, months, to even a year or more. 

The objective of physical therapy for children is subject to the ailment we treat. But some of the benefits of Physical Therapy, specifically for children, are: 

  • Improvement in mobility and walking gait 
  • Pain reduction 
  • Rehabilitation of existing injuries 
  • Disability prevention 
  • Not having to opt for surgical intervention 
  • Management of chronic injuries or illnesses 
  • Prevention of future injuries

When selecting a licensed physical therapist for your child, it’s essential to choose one who has experience providing physical therapy for children. They’re not just “mini-adults” – children’s bodies and bones are different.

You also need a physical therapist who can engage with, build trust, and foster positive relationships with children. Otherwise, as you probably know only too well. There is little chance of getting them to do any required exercises if they’re not engaged and “having fun.”

Does Your Child Need Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy helps facilitate movement in children. It assists them in using their natural abilities to overcome adversity and physical impairments. The way physical therapy benefits your child depends on their medical status and the challenges they face.

For example, in cases of cerebral palsy, physical therapy plays a critical role in helping your child regain control of the parts of their body affected by the disease.

To do this, physical therapists work with your child in a planned manner over time to help them improve their mobility and gain greater control. 

If your child sustains an injury from playing sports, they may also find physical therapy has benefits as it aids recovery and speeds up healing time.

For instance, if your child injures their cruciate ligament in a soccer game. Physical therapy helps them regain strength in the injured leg, minimizes scar tissue, and prevents future disability or improper function from occurring because of the injury.

It is especially beneficial in the case of post-surgical rehabilitation. In that case, physical therapy helps relieve post-surgical pain, restores muscle control, and builds strength through targeted exercise. 

Physical therapy is also helpful for: 

  • Delays in development
  • Genetic abnormalities 
  • Congenital disabilities 
  • Injuries to the head 
  • Surgical recovery 
  • Injuries from overuse
  • Muscle diseases

Any of the abovementioned reasons could hamper your child’s ability to grow, walk or talk normally. But many of these situations show improvement or can sometimes even be prevented with physical therapy.

In addition, many physical therapy treatments explicitly help your child gain as much independence as possible – to enjoy their childhood and carry them positively into adulthood.  

Physical Therapy Treatments For Children

Since specific conditions and symptoms vary from child to child, the methods and treatment we use in child-focused physical therapy sessions differ from case to case.

The exact line of treatment prescribed in their Individualized Treatment Plan depends on your child’s specific needs. But some of those treatments may include: 

  • Flexibility and stretching exercises to improve mobility 
  • Electrotherapy or heat/cold therapy
  • Ultrasound for improvement of circulation in injuries 
  • Specific training exercises that help to gain strength
  • Water-based exercises to diminish the impact on joints
  • Adaptive movements to help your child overcome any permanent physical disability  
  • For the improvement of muscle control: we introduce balance and coordination movements 
  • Your child’s physical therapist may also provide instructions and homecare advice for better posture to reduce the risk of injuries in the future. 

We maintain a file for your child to record their abilities at the start of treatment and conduct tests to determine what improvements they make over the course of their treatment. We also suggest exercises for your child to do at home between appointments.

Physical Therapy For Children: Important Information and Safety Measures 

We’re a family practice. We understand how precious your children are to you. So, while our physical therapists always give the utmost importance to patient safety. If it’s possible, it’s even more so in pediatrics.

Even though physical therapy is a safe, non-invasive treatment, nothing in life is 100% without risk, so there is a certain level of risk involved in physical therapy. But the actual risk is almost non-existent. 

In some cases, your child might complain that they feel uncomfortable after the therapy session. This discomfort is normal. After physical therapy, especially in the early stages and your child’s first few appointments, a certain amount of discomfort (not pain) is to be expected.

In addition, physical therapy involves working with delicate and potentially weak parts of your child’s body. Those areas can feel sore afterward, and your child may complain that they feel more tired than usual. 

However, if your child does experience pain or any other negative symptom after their sessions, make sure you tell their therapist. They will determine whether the movements from the session have aggravated something and alter future sessions accordingly.

Another thing to consider is that if your child is enthusiastic, we may need to use caution to make sure they don’t overdo it. The homecare exercises we recommend include instructions on the number of times your child should perform them.

They should not exceed this number. It’s essential to make sure your child only exercises the prescribed number of times for their recovery to be safe and swift and prevent further injury.

How To Get Physical Therapy For Your Child

Children grow quickly – so time is of the essence. Don’t delay getting treatment for your child if you think they need it because it may negatively affect their future potential. But there are some things to bear in mind when considering physical therapy for your child. 

Most US states permit children to get physical therapy without requiring a doctor’s referral. However, subject to the state laws you live in, there may be times when you need a referral from a doctor. In addition, in states where referrals are not required, getting physical therapy may interfere with your health insurance plan. Therefore, before consulting a children’s physical therapist, it’s advisable to do the following: 

Go through your insurance policy to confirm whether you need a referral for coverage. 

Browse through the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) list to determine if you need a doctor’s referral before an appointment. You could also confirm the same from the child’s physical therapist.

Certain US states require a doctor’s approval before consulting a physical therapist. In certain instances, the Physical therapist might need to speak to a doctor about the line of treatment, so you need to check the same with the therapist.  

Before beginning the treatment, if a referral is needed, you can get it from a surgeon, physician, or health professional as per the state laws.

Also, if your child is already under the care of a physician, it’s advisable to seek their advice if you plan to take them to see a children’s physical therapist.

At Intecore Physical Therapy, we treat the whole family and specialize in pediatric physical therapy. To find out more, book a free call to chat through your child’s requirements with one of our friendly physical therapists.

We also offer an option for you to bring your child along to the clinic for a Discovery Visit – to check that we’re the right choice for you and them.

Andrew Vertson