What exactly does a physiotherapist do?

It's one of those jobs which involves far more than you might first think!

Paediatric physiotherapists work with children who have neurological, developmental, and orthopaedic conditions in the shorter term but who may also have complex long-term medical, social and learning needs. The focus is on maximising a child or young person's physical ability within their everyday activities at home, in education and in their community.

Physiotherapists work closely with the child, their family, and other professionals to achieve the outcomes outlined here.

Physiotherapists will usually be involved at an early stage of a child's development and work with active exercises. They focus on joint range, muscle tone, movement and gross motor activities.

The team work together to identify the best combination of activities and equipment (such as seating), for a child. Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists also work with Speech and Language Therapists on aspects of activity, equipment and feeding. Physiotherapists will see most children individually and although mostly work within the NHS, increasingly can be accessed within private practice.

It is vitally important that parents choose a physiotherapist who is skilled in treating children and understands all the medico-legal aspects of children's care. Children can be seen at acute hospitals, community services, schools, nurseries or at home depending on circumstances.

Self-management and independence is an important aspect of the service. Treatment sessions vary greatly depending upon individual need and may include:

  • Regular assessments where  the most appropriate therapy interventions are identified.  An individual programme to meet a child's particular needs involving either individual therapy or specialist group work will be provided.
  •  Developing a treatment programme which may include exercises and positioning and sometimes hydrotherapy if  needed. Paediatric physiotherapists can train other people who help a child such as  family (parents, grandparents and brothers and sisters),  respite carer and  teachers to do any exercises and positioning  if everyone agrees to do this.
  • Advice to support everyday activities.
  • Assessment and advice about specialist equipment designed to improve  functional ability and mobility. Social Care (Independent Living Service) provides some specialist equipment  and some will come from the Health Service. Therapists will make detailed assessments of need and apply for funding from the correct provider. If an item is required and there is no funding available, a paediatric physiotherapist will help  submit applications for funding from charitable organisations.
  • Contribution to an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), support  at Team Around the Child and other meetings and reports. A paediatric physiotherapist may act as a keyworker. Therapists will share their findings with members of the wider team if a child and  parents / carers give permission.
  • Signposting children and families / carers to helpful activities and to other organisations, including referral to Mobility/Wheelchair Services or Orthotics if needed.


This article was written by The Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists (“APCP”) a professional network of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

More on the work of the APCP can be found on their web site at https://apcp.csp.org.uk/




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