Pediatrics is a medical specialty that deals with children. Today physical therapy is a large component of pediatrics. Children essentially have congenital (inherited) and non-congenital conditions that may benefit from physical therapy. The disability from these medical conditions is often life long and requires prolonged physical therapy.
One of the most common childhood disorders that requires pediatric physical therapy is spina bifida. In this disorder, which occurs during pregnancy, the spine fails to develop properly. There are several types of spina bifida that also differ in severity. Spina bifida occulta is the least severe form where there is incomplete closure of the back portion of the bones that make up the spine. Many children have a tuft of hair gowning in the midline of the lower back. This disorder usually causes no symptoms. The two most severe types of spina bifida include a meningocele and myelomeningocele.
Other common pediatric disorders that also require physical therapy include 1) scoliosis (where the curvature of the spine is affected) 2) Torticollis where the posture of the neck is altered 3) and cerebral palsy where there is mental retardation, developmental delay and spasticity of the extremities. In each of these disorders, the aim of physical therapy is to maximize the quality of life, improve the potential for ambulation, and prevent stiffening of joints.
Physical therapy is also concerned with the psychological and emotional well-being of the child. Pediatric physical therapists often interact with many other consultants and healthcare professionals to help maximize the outcome of the child. A pediatric physical therapist can help assess a child’s disability, establish a management plan, and recommend additional testing or procedures.
Besides assistance with ambulation, pediatric physical therapists also offer education, manipulation exercise, and wellness oriented programs. The eventual aim of physical therapy in children is to maintain and restore maximize ambulation and functional ability through the life span of the individual.
Physical therapy in children can occur in many settings such as outpatient clinics, in patient rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, private homes, schools, hospice care, occupational environments, fitness centers and in hospitals.
To become a pediatric physical therapist one must first enroll in an entry-level educational program to become a general physical therapist. The content of learning for physical therapy includes detailed knowledge about the clinical sciences like anatomy, physiology, heart, lungs, musculoskeletal, genitourinary, skin, neuromuscular and metabolic systems.
Once the basic and clinical sciences are completed, the curriculum is then geared towards practical patient management. This may include learning how to examine patients and perform tests to assess disability. The other major emphasis of graduate education for pediatric physical therapists is to promote fitness and wellness.
The field of physical therapy is very broad and today there are ample opportunities for these professionals to specialize in particular clinical areas of interest. When it comes to children, these professionals are specialized in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of children and infants. The treatment in children is aimed at improving gross and fine motor skills, improving balance, coordination, increasing endurance and strength.
Pediatric physical therapists have many job opportunities and may even start their own clinic. The salary for pediatric physical therapists usually starts at around $65,000 and can even go as high as $90,000. Experienced pediatric physical therapist usually earn in the high range.
While the profession is well respected and there are many opportunities for advancement, the work is demanding; it requires a lot of dedication and motivation. Today, many private sports clinic are actively recruiting pediatric physical therapists. The work is gratifying and fulfilling.
On a final note, the specialty is highly competitive and one must have good grades to enter the general physical therapy program. Years of intense education are very rewarding in this specialty.