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Physical Therapy

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What Is Physical Therapy?

Doctors often recommend physical therapy for kids and teens who have been injured or who have movement problems from an illness, disease, or disability.

After an injury, physical therapists (PTs) work to decrease pain, improve movement, and help kids return to daily activities. They teach kids exercises designed to help them regain strength and range of motion. PTs also show kids and families how to prevent future injuries.

Physical therapy might be needed any time a problem with movement limits someone's daily activities. So doctors often recommend it for kids with:

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Physical therapists use a variety of treatments to help build strength, improve movement, and strengthen skills needed to complete daily activities.

PTs might guide kids through:

  • developmental activities, such as crawling and walking
  • balance and coordination activities
  • adaptive play
  • aquatic (water) therapy
  • improving circulation around injuries by using heat, cold, exercise, electrical stimulation, massage, and ultrasound
  • training to build strength around an injury
  • flexibility exercises to increase range of motion
  • instruction on how to avoid injuries
  • safety and prevention programs

During a visit, a physical therapist may:

  • measure a child's flexibility and strength
  • analyze how a child walks and runs (the child's gait)
  • run a few motor tests to see how a child functions compared with other kids their age
  • sometimes, consult with other team members, including medical, psychology, and school personnel about an individual education plan (IEP)
  • provide instructions for home exercise programs
  • recommend when returning to sports is safe

How Do We Find a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists typically work in hospitals, private practices, fitness centers, and rehabilitation and research facilities. Ask your doctor for recommendations or contact your medical insurance provider. You also can search online at:

Date reviewed: February 2022