Physical therapy is a type of medical treatment that helps a person move his or her body. You might wonder why anyone would need help moving. But if you've ever had a broken bone or a bad injury, you know how hard it can be to do normal things, like walk or throw a baseball.
Physical therapy helps people who have been injured, or who have a physical disability such as cerebral palsy, so they can move their bodies better.
Physical therapists (or PTs) are health professionals who know a lot about how the body moves and how to improve movement. They treat people as young as little babies and as old as great-grandparents.
Someone might go to one physical therapy session or many sessions over months or years. During the sessions, the PT teaches the person exercises and special stretches. This therapy can strengthen weak muscles and show the person new ways of getting around.
When Kids Go to Physical Therapy
A broken leg is a good example of why a kid might go to physical therapy. Before leaving the hospital, the physical therapist will teach the kid how to walk with crutches and how to go up and down stairs. Therapists know the best way to hold onto crutches and teach kids how much weight they can put on the broken leg.
While learning to walk with crutches, a kid might wear a safety belt so he or she doesn't fall down or stumble while practicing. The PT also teaches the child's parents about using crutches safely on flat surfaces and stairs. It's important for kids to wear good supportive shoes, like sneakers, when using crutches.
Another kind of therapy called occupational therapy also can be helpful. Occupational therapy helps an injured or disabled person learn how to do daily tasks, such as getting dressed or brushing teeth.
Some people say a physical therapist will get you where you are going, but an occupational therapist helps you when you get there.
Learning by Playing
Kids learn by playing, so physical therapists often have toys for kids to use. You might find balls, benches, swings, and slides in a pediatric therapy gym. Kids can have some fun during these therapy sessions, though it can be a lot of hard work to make muscles stronger and learn to do new things.
Some kids might see a PT just one or two times, whereas other kids may be in therapy for many months. The sessions usually last 30 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the kid's age and the type of problems he or she is having.
Do You Want to Be a Physical Therapist?
If you're interested in science, how the body works, and caring for people, you might think about being a physical therapist. You will need to go to college (for 4 years) and then to a graduate school program (for 2 or more years) before you can work as a physical therapist. (The entry level degree is the doctorate of physical therapy.)
But all that school is worth it. A therapist who works with kids told us that pediatric PTs love their jobs because they help kids learn to move their bodies so they can play, feed themselves, walk, and run with their families and friends.
Reviewed by: Carolyn T. Giles, PTA
Date reviewed: June 2014