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Your Guide to Infant Physiotherapy 

Jan 04th, 2023 | by Liz Bulliner, PT, DPT

Liz Bulliner, PT, DPT

January 04th, 2023

Did you know babies can start physiotherapy as young as one day old? Babies do not need to be a certain age to be able to participate in physiotherapy. It is important to know when you should start talking to your infant’s paediatrician about any concerns you have about their gross motor development.

Physiotherapy for Infants  

If you have had a baby in the NICU, you have probably worked with paediatric physiotherapists there to promote the brain, bone, and muscle development of your baby. In this setting, physiotherapists work closely with the nursing staff, parents/caregivers, and physicians. Physiotherapy often includes helping babies learn how to stay calm during necessary tasks (like diaper changes), range of motion to keep muscles and bones strong, and positioning and holding techniques for parents and nursing staff to help keep infants safe and to promote brain and sensory system develop.

Physiotherapy for Premature Babies

It is common for infants who are premature to benefit from physiotherapy after they go home from the hospital. The most common settings for physiotherapy at this stage are in the home through Early Intervention or in outpatient paediatric clinics (like NAPA😊). When physiotherapists monitor gross motor skills of premature infants, we give them extra time to catch up depending on how early they are born we account for that time. We usually account for prematurity until a child is two years old.

The focus of physiotherapy for premature infants in general is to promote acquisition of gross motor skills and to partner with families to promote use of those skills at home.

Why Would an Infant Need Physiotherapy?

Infants may be referred to physiotherapy for a variety of reasons. Two of the most common reasons are gross motor delay and torticollis. When a child has either of these diagnoses, the earlier physiotherapy can be started the better!

Physiotherapy for Gross Motor Delay in Infants

We see gross motor delays in infants for a variety of reasons and a child does not necessarily need another diagnosis to begin physiotherapy if this is a concern. Typically if a child is more than 2-3 months delayed, its time to start seeking a physiotherapy referral. The CDC just released new Developmental Milestones in 2022 to assist physicians and parents know when they should seek care from a physiotherapist or other specialists. These guidelines capture when 75% of infants have met a particular milestone. For example, 75% of infants are able to sit unsupported at 9 months old, so if that is a skill your infant is still mastering at that age, it is time to start talking to your paediatrician about physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy for Torticollis in Infants

Another commonly seen diagnosis in infants requiring physiotherapy treatment is torticollis. Torticollis is an abnormal and asymmetrical position of the head and neck caused by tightness in one side of the sternocleidomastoid (SCM), a muscle that goes from behind the ears and attaches to the top of the breastplate and collarbone. Infants with this condition tend to have a side that they prefer to look to and to tilt their head the opposite way. For example, if an infant prefers to look to the right, you might notice that their head is tilted to the left, indicating that their left SCM is tight. The primary treatment for torticollis is physiotherapy. NAPA has more resources about what torticollis is and specifics on how physiotherapists treat it:

Physiotherapist for Babies  

When seeking physiotherapy for your baby, it is important to seek out a clinic or provider that specialises in paediatrics. While all physiotherapists learn some basics about paediatrics, clinicians who specialise in this area of practice have completed training and continuing education to become experts in development to provide the best care for infants and children.

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About the Author

Liz is a PT at our NAPA Denver location. Growing up she attended hundreds of her sisters therapy sessions where the therapists saw her sister as a person and not as her disability. Her goal is to see kids as kids while helping them maximise their physical potential and meet their goals! When she is not in clinic you can find her checking out the newest local coffee shop, hitting up the gym, or enjoying the great outdoors.

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