Treating cerebral palsy: physical therapy
Physical therapy is one of the most important aspects of cerebral palsy therapy. The referral to the physical therapist is often the first referral made in a cerebral palsied child’s treatment. The job of the physical therapist is to help a child’s mobility to develop and to carry out and teach exercises designed to avoid contractures, bone deformity and unwanted movement. In general, they are trained to work with your child to enable him or her to obtain maximum physical function.

Physical therapists tend to focus mainly on activities involving the legs, such as walking, braces, using crutches and rehabilitation after a surgery. A patient’s physical therapy treatment program will likely change quite a bit over the years, as one will probably not have the same physical limitations one had as an infant, although they are all a result of the neurological disorder (CP). Physical therapy can also help a child’s family through reducing stress caused by caring for the child. Much of what the physical therapist will do in their treatment program will be exercises that the parents are able to perform at home, making it a less daunting task to help the child’s development. Many parents attend their child’s physical therapy sessions with them. Parental attendance is helpful in physical therapy for a number of reasons. Many children perform better in comfortable settings. For instance, it has been noted that children can often complete exercises and tasks much more easily at home than in the office of the physical therapist. For this reason, having his or her parent(s) present can give the child much-needed positive reinforcement and a feeling of security, without which the child may perform less impressively in their physical therapy program.

The fields of physical therapy and occupational therapy can overlap quite a bit in the treatment of a child with cerebral palsy. They are both responsible for motor skill development, but the occupational therapist is focused on fine motor skills involving the hands, face and feet, while the physical therapist’s concentration on motor skills will be the development of gross motor skills, involving movement on a grander scale. Providing a patient with adaptive equipment (mechanical aids), helping the child with positioning and seating, sensory integration and range of motion are other examples of the over lap between physical therapy and occupational therapy. Another is orthotics, however the occupational therapist will focus on upper extremities, while the physical therapist will focus on lower extremity orthotics. In addition to the aforementioned over lapping areas of specialization, a physical therapist will also be responsible for oromotor skills, functional skills, pain management, gait analysis and training, balance, fitness, posture and biomechanical alignment.

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