Physical Therapy and Physiotherapy
Though the terms are often used interchangeably, physical therapy and physiotherapy are forms of rehabilitative health practiced in slightly different ways. They restore, maintain and promote optimal movement and physical function. They target activity limitations, participation restrictions, and environmental barriers experienced by individuals with motor impairment. Physical therapy uses functional training, manual therapy, assistive technologies, and electrotherapeutic modalities.
What is physical therapy?
Physical therapy (PT) is a branch of rehabilitative health that is considered one of the most important aspects of treating children with Cerebral Palsy. Those with Cerebral Palsy experience mobility, function, posture and balance challenges of varying degrees, and physical therapy – which focuses on basic mobility such as standing, walking, climbing stairs, reaching or operating a wheelchair – is a key element in the multidisciplinary approach to increasing a child’s mobility.
Physical therapy is the rehabilitation of physical impairments by training and strengthening a patient’s large muscles – those in the arms, legs, and abdomen. The goal of physical therapy is to maximize functional control of the body, or increase gross motor function.
The goal of physical therapy is to help individuals:
- develop coordination
- build strength
- improve balance
- maintain flexibility
- optimize physical functioning levels
- maximize independence
Trained and licensed physical therapists identify mobility issues and determine the unique physical abilities and limitations of children, taking into account their age and cognitive functioning, after a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy is made by a physician.
The therapist will then develop a course of treatment that will include exercises, stretches, and possibly assistive and adaptive equipment designed to achieve mobility. The treatment may also employ the use of passive modalities involving hot and cold packs, ultrasound technology or other means in which the child does not take an active role.
All treatment is designed to meet a child’s individual needs in a way that emphasizes physical fitness, and minimizes injuries and pain.
Additionally, a physical therapist provides positive reinforcement for a child by focusing on his or her capabilities, not limitations. The therapist will set goals for young patients, and work with them to meet predetermined benchmarks with confidence in a safe, supportive environment.
Therapy aids overall treatment goals such as:
- Overcoming physical limitations
- Expanding range of joint motion
- Building and maintaining muscle tone
- Increasing recreational capabilities
- Identifying alternate ways to perform everyday tasks
- Fostering independence
- Decreasing the likelihood of contractures, bone deformity
- Educating children and parents about adaptive equipment
- Providing sensory stimulation
- Increasing fitness
- Increasing flexibility
- Improving posture
- Improving gait
- Minimizing pain and discomfort
Who benefits from physical therapy?
A child, and his or her parents or caregivers, benefit tremendously from physical therapy because it helps the child overcome physical limitations by increasing mobility, and identifies alternate methods of completing tasks.
The individual with Cerebral Palsy benefits
This is of benefit to the child because it makes possible something unaffected individuals take for granted: the ability to move from place to place and interact with other children or adults by playing or performing tasks. Therapy also increases overall health by strengthening the body in a way that makes functioning not only possible, but pain and stress-free.
This is achieved not only by developing strength and flexibility in the body, but also using adaptive techniques – or equipment that can be operated by the child – that will allow the patient an alternate path to perform tasks able-bodied children their age perform.