Pediatric physical therapy is a specialty within physical therapy that focuses on babies and children.  There is a wide variety of areas within pediatric PT, all with the common thread that children have different needs than others.  They are not just little adults!  Pediatric PT’s recognize that children’s bodies and minds are constantly evolving, requiring specialized care tailored to their unique growth and developmental stages.

What kinds of ages and diagnoses do pediatric physical therapists work with?

Pediatric physical therapists specialize in addressing a wide array of diagnoses and conditions that affect children’s physical development and well-being. They start with babies as soon as they are born through about 18 years old.  Most of the work centers around helping gross motor skills development and achievement of independent mobility. Additionally, pediatric PTs provide support for children with orthopedic conditions, post surgical rehabilitation, or addressing musculoskeletal issues such as torticollis. They play a crucial role in the management of neurological disorders, including cerebral palsyspina bifida, and traumatic brain injuries, by performing things such as therapeutic exercise, equipment recommendations, and environmental adaptations. They also maximize function for children with genetic disorders, congenital issues, or idiopathic issues such as toe walking with their ability to combine analysis of the underlying medical factors with the complexities of the functional symptoms and challenges. Whether it’s finding new ways to move, building strength and coordination, or helping a family problem solve, pediatric PTs are there every step of the way, making sure each child gets the support they need to thrive. 

How is it different from PT for adults?

Pediatric PT has a play based and interactive approach as that is what children respond to best.  Play is the way babies and children learn about movement and their environment.  Pediatric PT’s use this approach to make therapy as fun and engaging as possible via toys, play equipment, swings, games, child-friendly language, and breaks to reconnect with mom or dad. 
Another reason pediatric PT can be different from adults is the focus on family centered care.  Children don’t live on their own!  Parents are involved at all levels of care starting with goal setting, receiving education, hands-on techniques, and helping carryover into the home and other environments.  It’s not just the hour of PT that is important, it’s what it facilitates during all the other opportunities of a child’s life.

Where do pediatric physical therapists work?

Pediatric physical therapists can be found working in a variety of settings to best meet the needs of the child and family. They are found in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, where they focus on acute medical injuries, illnesses, and post-surgery rehabilitation, helping children regain their strength and mobility. In rehabilitation centers, pediatric PTs continue to provide therapy when a child requires further support beyond the hospital setting but isn’t quite ready to transition home, offering a bridge to recovery.
Schools also benefit from the expertise of pediatric physical therapists, who provide educationally relevant therapy to enable children to fully participate in classroom activities and access their learning environment. This could involve interventions to improve gross motor skills, enhance mobility, or address physical barriers that may hinder a child’s academic progress.
For the youngest patients, pediatric physical therapists play a crucial role in early intervention programs, working with children from birth to three years old who have developmental delays or disabilities. These early interventions can significantly impact a child’s development and set them on a positive trajectory for the future, with therapists not only addressing physical challenges but also supporting families in understanding and facilitating their child’s progress.
Private outpatient clinics serve as another essential setting for pediatric PT services, offering therapy for children of all ages. Here, therapists focus on a range of needs, from developmental skills enhancement to injury rehabilitation, providing tailored interventions to promote optimal physical function and independence. Teletherapy is often utilized in this setting to provide support in the child’s primary environment and assist with carrying over information learned during clinic based sessions.  It also helps ensure access and regular programming when the family cannot reach the clinic due to family illness or weather related conditions. 

What is the education required to become a pediatric physical therapist?

All physical therapists complete a three year post-graduate educational program to receive a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.  A baccalaureate degree is typically required to apply for the doctoral program.  All physical therapists have to pass a licensure examination and complete ongoing continuing education requirements every two years. Pediatric physical therapists typically specialize in this area only and do not see other age ranges of patients.  This is due to the very different needs of children vs. adults.  A therapist can also further their specialty education by becoming a Board Certified Pediatric Specialist within the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties after 2000 hours of practice in this area.

Anything else?

Pediatric PT’s incorporate all principles of a child’s development, not just the physical challenges. Cognitive, social, and emotional aspects of a child’s development are also considered, screened, and considered as part of the treatment program.  From this, a referral to another discipline may be recommended such as pediatric occupational therapypediatric speech therapy, a lactation consultantABA therapy, etc. Progress is continually assessed and adapted based on a child’s evolving and growing needs. Our PT’s at Good Beginnings are interdisciplinary trained to recognize, refer, and collaborate with all providers on a child’s team to ensure the best possible services.  If your child would benefit from our physical therapy services, please contact us at or call 703.536.1817.