Physical therapy helps people improve their strength, ability to move and function. Our physical therapists help children and teens recover from temporary problems, such as sports injuries. We also work with patients who have long-lasting conditions, including those that affect gross motor skills such as walking, running and playing.
Why choose Seattle Children’s physical therapy?
- Seattle Children’s has the largest team of physical therapists in the Pacific Northwest who specialize in the care of babies, children, teens and young adults.
- Our physical therapists have the expertise and specially sized equipment needed to work with growing children, from the very smallest babies to teen athletes.
- We have therapists who are board certified in pediatric physical therapy, which means they have extensive experience and extra training in providing care for children.
- Several of our therapists completed a pediatric physical therapy residency – a higher level of education for licensed physical therapists who want deeper knowledge and skills in pediatrics. Residencies have long been part of training for medical doctors; they are a newer option for physical therapists.
- Our physical therapists see children with a wide range of conditions and abilities. We develop a plan of care made just for your child or teen, and we coordinate the care among all of the providers your child sees.
- Your child will have an evaluation and receive treatment from therapists who match your child’s needs. Each of our therapists has special areas of focus, such as therapy for babies less than 1 year old or therapy for children with spinal cord injuries.
- As part of your child’s comprehensive evaluation, the physical therapist will work with you and your child to set treatment goals. We offer brief courses of therapy – usually over a few months – aimed at very specific, short-term goals. Research shows this approach is the best way to get results for your child. As your child’s goals evolve, we may provide additional brief courses of therapy or refer you to physical therapists in the community for ongoing care.
We treat babies, children, teens and young adults with a wide range of conditions, including these:
- Brachial plexus palsy
- Cancer and blood disorders
- Cerebral palsy
- Chronic pain conditions (PDF)
- Developmental delay
- Gait abnormality
- Neuromuscular diseases, such as muscular dystrophy
- Spina bifida
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury
We also work with patients who are recovering from surgery.
Services We Provide
Our physical therapists provide services at Seattle Children’s clinic locations as well as in the hospital on our main campus, where they work with children in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program, the intensive care units, the Cancer Care Unit and other areas.
We work with your child to improve strength in muscles that are weak due to disease, injury or lack of movement. Therapists may use one or more of these methods:
- Provide resistance to movement by using their hands (manual resistance).
- Have your child use weight machines, resistance bands, exercise balls or free weights.
We also teach stretches to increase range of motion.
If shortened muscles and tendons (contractures) make a child’s ankles very stiff, we offer a therapy that uses casts to stretch muscles and improve movement. Over several weeks, your child wears a series of casts to stretch their muscles a little bit at a time. After serial casting, we often assist with getting devices (orthotics) to help with foot positioning and movement. We also provide therapy to work on standing and gait.
Our physical therapists develop programs to help children improve control of the large muscles they need for activities like walking, running and playing (gross motor skills). We teach you and your child how to work through a program at home so your child can improve skills through practice and repetition.
We use hands-on help as well as walkers and canes to improve your child’s ability to walk. We also use the LiteGait system and SafeGait system (supportive suspension equipment) to take some weight off your child’s joints and muscles and help with balance during therapy. LiteGait uses a harness to support part of your child’s weight as they walk on a treadmill. SafeGait can support your child as they walk, learn to crawl, sit on a therapy ball or practice regaining their balance if they start to fall.
Our physical therapists evaluate your child to see if orthotics for the legs or feet can help with positioning and movement. If so, our experts meet with you and your child to design a useful device just for your child. Our therapists also work with children with lower-limb prosthetics to improve their balance and ability to walk, run and play.
Our physical therapists are part of a team of health professionals from many specialties that evaluates children who have tight, stiff muscles (spasticity) or other muscle tone problems. We design therapy for your child to help them move and function as well as they possibly can.
We provide sports physical therapy for school-age children and teens at 4 locations, including our main campus in Seattle, our clinics in Federal Way and Mill Creek and the 2,500-square-foot sports gym at our Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center. Young athletes will be evaluated in action – playing ball sports, running or using a stationary bike or free weights – by experts who understand the special needs of growing bodies. In helping your child recover from a sports injury, our physical therapists have two main goals: to safely return your child to sports and to prevent future injury. Read more.
When pain limits your child’s activity, our physical therapists use a variety of treatments to decrease pain and get your child to be active again. Our programs range from daily, intensive exercise sessions guided by a physical therapist to home exercise programs designed just for your child.
We evaluate and treat babies from birth to 1 year old who are either in the hospital or patients at our clinics. To assist even the youngest children, we provide:
- Positioning equipment
- Treatment to help your child’s development
- Feeding therapy
- Parent education
Our physical therapists provide evaluations to help you decide on a manual or power wheelchair, adaptive stroller or other positioning or mobility equipment for your child. To help you make sure your child gets the right equipment, we:
- Talk with you to find out about your child’s needs.
- Evaluate your child for the right equipment to improve their function.
- Set up a visit with the equipment provider so you can try the equipment.
- Manage paperwork between the doctor who prescribed the equipment, the company that provides the equipment and your insurance company.
This form of physical therapy may keep the abnormal spinal curve from getting worse in some children with scoliosis. It may have other benefits, too, such as better posture, strength, flexibility and breathing. It may also improve the results of bracing and prevent or delay surgery. Your child learns and practices exercises during visits with a physical therapist and does the exercises at home each day. Therapists in Sports Physical Therapy provide this service. Read more. (PDF)
CDT is used to manage swelling that happens because of a problem in the lymph system (lymphedema). There are 4 parts to this therapy:
- Skin care
- Manual lymph drainage
- Compression therapy
Seattle Children’s has certified lymphedema therapists on our Physical Therapy team and Occupational Therapy team who provide CDT. They also teach you and your child to manage lymphedema at home. Read more.
Physical therapy sessions in a pool, where water supports the body, can help children who need to build strength or who are dealing with pain and stiffness after surgery. We offer aquatic therapy at our main campus in Seattle. Our physical therapists also teach families activities they can do in the water that match their child’s physical limits and abilities. Read more.
Scheduling an Appointment With Physical Therapy
- If you would like a referral to Physical Therapy, talk to your primary care provider. If you already have a referral, please call to schedule an appointment.
- If you already have an appointment, learn more about what to expect and how to prepare.
- Learn about Physical Therapy resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading for you and your family.
Participate in Research
Help us answer questions about childhood health and illness, and help other children in the future. Learn more.