Pediatric Physical Therapy

It’s Like Eating Your Vegetables

Child assembles a block structure while a therapist takes notes

When you think about it, therapy is much like eating vegetables. It’s good for the body, and even the mind. However, convincing children of this fact can be difficult.

Pediatric physical therapists help children recover from injuries or illnesses and manage the physical effects of certain diseases or conditions. The complex medical issues many children face cause additional hurdles for the therapists in achieving results. It’s crucial to handle each patient with extra care and attention. While their work can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling, it also comes with numerous challenges.


One of the biggest challenges is to keep a child engaged and motivated, as that is the key to successful therapy sessions. Pediatric physical therapists often say that they must constantly find new ways to motivate their young patients. Kids don’t often buy into the idea that therapy is good for them and that they’ll appreciate the benefits of their hard work.

Therapists seek exercise devices that are visually appealing, incorporate elements of play, are easy to learn how to use, and facilitate activities with peers. In other words, kids rapidly engage with exercise devices that make therapy sessions more enjoyable and less like physical training experiences.

Therapists indicate that kids quickly become engaged when they use the Pumper Car® ride-on device—which Mobility for Kids features in our Strive and Thrive program. Therapists often call it “a game-changer.”

For example, Roberta Richards, a physical therapist in Walled Lake, Michigan, says that virtually all their patients at the Abilities Center enjoy riding Pumper Car vehicles and don’t realize that they’re also getting significant therapeutic exercise at the same time. Richards points out that the children who benefit the most from these cars are those with low tone or decreased muscle strength. She said that the Pumper Car devices allow them to “keep up with their peers who are using bicycles and tricycles—as methods of locomotion which require motor control and coordination beyond their capabilities. As they zoom around the track, they are developing increased muscle strength, endurance, proprioceptive feedback, shoulder girdle ability . . . and here they thought they were just having fun.”


Some other challenges that impede pediatric physical therapists include communication barriers that are a result of the child’s medical problems. A patient’s age and ability to understand the goals can be a major issue. The fact that therapy can be painful and often frustrating can lead some children to have emotional outbursts or behavioral problems. Through it all, the pediatric physical therapists must tailor the therapy to each patient and find ways that work best for that child. Documenting what happens in each session is critical—it helps to show how the child is progressing or if a different form of therapy might be needed.


Because therapy methods and tools are constantly changing, pediatric physical therapists are faced with the additional challenge of keeping up on advancements in their field and receiving continuing education. These classes might include learning about new equipment, time management, and setting and maintaining professional boundaries with their young patients. They also may learn how to develop activities that encourage inclusivity at home and school while also improving the patients’ outlook toward therapy.

With some luck and a lot of skill, pediatric physical therapists can help their patients learn to appreciate and even enjoy therapy, just like their vegetables.

Mobility for Kids is committed to supporting the work of pediatric physical therapists by providing information about and access to therapeutic exercise devices that are fun for kids to use and effective in helping them reach rehabilitative and exercise goals. Donations by businesses, organizations, and individuals enable us to accomplish this and improve the lives of children across the nation.

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