So your pediatrician recommended physical therapy, now what?

A lot of thoughts are probably running through your head right now including “what does physical therapy for a child even look like?” The answer is….it depends on the child, however the general layout is the same.

First Things First

There are many ways to find therapists in your area, but if you are starting from scratch the American Physical Therapy Association website or asking for recommendations from your pediatrician is a good place to start.

Once you find a clinic, call to set up an appointment for an initial evaluation. This evaluation will usually be booked for an hour, but can last 30-60 minutes. Prior to the appointment, gather pertinent information, such as your child’s medical history and bring it with you. Try to complete all intake forms provided by the clinic prior to the appointment time to allow for the clinic and therapist to review before the evaluation. Be sure to bring athletic shoes and clothes that the child can move freely in. If your child is an infant, the therapist may complete the evaluation with your child undressed to their diaper.

The Initial Evaluation

During the evaluation, the physical therapist will have the child go through various movementsso that they can assess range of motion, strength, balance, and coordination. Depending on the diagnosis and limitations present, they may also assess sensation and pain. The physical therapist will also perform an outcome measure (usually a standardized test) to assess where the child is at in their gross motor milestones. These outcome measures vary based on the age of the child, diagnosis, and current level of function. The therapist will use their best clinical judgment to determine which outcome measure is appropriate for the child. Don’t worry if your child is unable to follow directions; the physical therapist has techniques and strategies to set up the environment to assess the necessary skills. They will incorporate age-appropriate toys and activities to best engage and encourage the child. At the end of the evaluation, the therapist will provide appropriate education and a home exercise program.

The Treatment Plan

The physical therapist will then calculate the outcome measure score and write up the evaluation. At this time, the therapist will determine if services are recommended. If they are, the therapist will also write a plan of care document with stated therapy goals. All of this is then sent to the referring doctor and back to you (guardians) for signatures. The insurance coordinator will then begin the process of obtaining visit authorization. Once the insurance aspect is taken care of, the office will call to set up recurring visits. Recurring visits will vary from 30 minutes to 60 minutes with the same therapist each week.

April 2022/ Dana Owens, PT, DPT

About the Author: Dana Owens

Dana obtained her Bachelor’s in Exercise Science and Master’s in Health Services Administration from University of Evansville and Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy from University of St. Augustine. She has worked in pediatrics ages 0-21, outpatient orthopedics, and inpatient neuro rehab and joined the staff of Building Bridges Therapy in 2021. Outside of work Dana enjoys hiking, reading, paddle boarding, and playing with her two cats.