Benefits of Physical Therapy for Children

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 14, 2023
3 min read

Children grow rapidly, and injuries and illnesses are sometimes unavoidable. Other children may have or may develop conditions that involve longer term treatment. Physical therapy may be an option for treating both injuries and other conditions. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of childhood physical therapy, the conditions it can help, and safety precautions to keep your kid healthy and happy. 

Physical therapy is a type of treatment for large body systems, such as muscles, joints, and limbs. A licensed physical therapist, who may specialize in working with children, will use gentle exercises, manipulations, and other physical treatments to help your child gain, maintain, or recover their physical abilities. Depending on your kid’s health, physical therapy may last anywhere from several weeks to over a year. 

The goal of physical therapy can vary, depending on what it’s being used to treat. Some common goals include:

  • Reducing pain
  • Improving mobility
  • Preventing disabilities
  • Avoiding surgeries
  • Preventing future injuries
  • Rehabilitating current injuries
  • Managing chronic illnesses

Few children will need all of these benefits, but many children will face at least one injury or concern that could benefit from physical therapy.

The process of physical therapy involves helping your child move or otherwise use their body in a healthier way. Exactly how physical therapy can help your child depends on their specific situation. 

For example, physical therapy is a common part of the treatment plan for cerebral palsy, a  neurological condition that can make it hard for children to control their bodies. In this case, physical therapy will likely involve the therapist helping your child learn to work with their body and develop more control over time.

On the other hand, sports injuries can also benefit from physical therapy. If your child tears their ACL while playing soccer, they will need to rebuild strength in their leg, especially if they had to have surgery. A physical therapist will help them exercise their leg to safely build up strength, regain full muscle control, and ease the pain from the injury.

Your child may also need physical therapy to treat:

  • Overuse injuries
  • Recovery from surgery
  • Developmental delays
  • Head injuries
  • Muscle diseases
  • Birth defects
  • Genetic disorders

Any one of these conditions can affect your child’s ability to walk, talk, and grow. But many of them can be prevented or improved with physical therapy. Physical therapists use a variety of treatments and activities to help your child remain as independent as possible. 

Methods and Treatments

Every physical therapist and child is different. While no single type of physical therapy will work in every situation, your child’s physical therapist might use a number of common activities and treatments. The exact mix will depend on your child’s individual needs. Potential treatments include:

  • Balance and coordination activities to improve your child’s fine muscle control
  • Adaptive play to help your child work around a permanent disability
  • Aquatic therapy to reduce joint impact
  • Training exercises to increase strength
  • Flexibility exercises for your child’s range of motion
  • Heat, cold, massage, ultrasound, or electrotherapy to improve circulation around an injury
  • Technical instruction to improve form and posture and avoid future injuries

Your child’s physical therapist will also likely keep a record of your child’s abilities, perform tests to measure their improvement, and provide home exercises to keep your child on track between appointments. 

Medical professionals are very careful when it comes to keeping patients safe, especially in pediatrics. But there are risks to physical therapy, like any treatment. 

In some cases, your child may complain that they are more uncomfortable after physical therapy than they were before. A certain amount of discomfort after active sessions is normal. The therapy process involves working weak and delicate areas, which can make them tired and sore. But, if any pain seems unusual or strong, never hesitate to talk to your child’s therapist. They can help make sure that certain exercises aren’t making the injury worse.

If your kid is excited to improve, they may also risk overdoing it at home. The home exercises their physical therapist provides will likely come with instructions on how often they should be done. Doing exercises more frequently than recommended could lead to your child making their injury worse. Always make sure your child is following the rules their therapist gave them to make sure that they heal as quickly and safely as possible.