3 Common Pediatric Conditions that Physiotherapy can Help!

By: Devan Mercereau, Physiotherapist

When we think of Physiotherapy, we often think of it as an intervention for injuries, post-surgical cases, or rehabilitation. In addition to treating these conditions in the youth and adult populations, babies can also get treated with Physiotherapy. I have a special interest in Pediatric Physiotherapy, and I often get asked how Physiotherapy can help babies. Below I will dig into the three most common conditions I treat for babies and how our sessions can help.

#1:  Delayed Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones are important for many reasons. They help to give infants a sense of awareness of space, help them transition into different positions, improve their core and muscle strength, and increase their overall independence. There are many stages of development within the first two years that are outlined here. Some common examples include:

– Holding their head up

– Rolling over

– Sitting up, crawling

– Standing and walking

It is important for infants to reach each milestone throughout their early development. Many concerns arise from parents that developmental milestones are delayed, but sometimes this is okay, as there is an age range. That being said, we do not want them to get too far behind. Physiotherapists can help facilitate and motivate your baby to continue to reach their milestones.

During a Pediatric Physiotherapy appointment, your therapist will go through many different positions important for milestone development based on your child’s age. Your Physiotherapist will give tips and tricks to help promote and facilitate these stages at home and provide an email with alternate positions, props or carrying positions to help your child reach all of these important stages in development.

#2: Brachycephaly/Plagiocephaly

These complex words can often be overwhelming, however they are quite common in infants. To start, brachycephaly and plagiocephaly rarely affect your infant’s brain development or milestone progressions, and often improve over time (5) . So, what are they?

Brachycephaly is flattening of the back of the head, often from spending time on their backs (common from sleeping) (4).

Plagiocephaly is flattening of one side of the back of the head, which can occasionally cause changes in the symmetry of the eyes and ears. Plagiocephaly can be commonly associated with torticollis that will be outlined below in the third common condition.

Again, these two conditions do not affect the infant’s brain development, as babies’ fontanelle (soft spots) in the skull have not fused together, therefore the brain still has the capacity to grow. These soft spots typically fuse together between 18 months and 2 years of age (1).

Commonly these changes are noted in the first few months as infants sleep a lot! When these changes are noted, it is important to encourage tummy time, side lying, or supported sitting to decrease the time spent with pressure in one spot of the skull. As your infant spends less time on their backs, this typically improves overtime. A Physiotherapy assessment can help with education for different positioning and encouragement of alternative play positions to help changes in head shape.

#3: Torticollis

Torticollis is the 3rd most common musculoskeletal condition in infants (2). Torticollis is caused by increased muscle tone in the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM). The SCM muscle performs two different actions: neck side bending and rotation. Commonly, parents will notice that their baby tends to always be looking in one direction and their head is tilted in one direction. An infant with torticollis may also struggle with nursing from one side. With a tight SCM, the head side bends towards the affected side and rotates away. Physiotherapy intervention for torticollis may include gentle massage to the SCM and other neck muscles, along with all developmental play positions and once again, education. Education for parents may include:

– Alternative strategies to encourage looking in the opposite direction

– Carrying positions

– Gentle home stretching

If you are concerned about your baby’s development or have any questions about their milestones, feel free to reach out to our clinic in Red Deer or book an appointment online with one of our Pediatric Physiotherapists by clicking here.

Resources

  1. “Anatomy of the Newborn Skull.” n.d. Stanford Children’s Health. Accessed December 31, 2021. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=anatomy-of-the-newborn-skull-90-P01840.
  2. Chen, Qiyu. n.d. “Congenital torticollis.” Physiopedia. Accessed December 30, 2021. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Congenital_torticollis.
  3. Mohammed, Layla. n.d. “Developmental Milestones.” CS Mott Children’s Hospital. Accessed December 30, 2021. https://www.mottchildren.org/posts/your-child/developmental-milestones.
  4. “PEDIATRICS.” n.d. APTA Pediatrics. Accessed December 30, 2021. https://pediatricapta.org/includes/fact-sheets/pdfs/Plagiocephaly.pdf.
  5. “Plagiocephaly and brachycephaly (flat head syndrome).” n.d. NHS. Accessed December 31, 2021. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/plagiocephaly-brachycephaly/.