Does My Child Need Physical Therapy?

Pediatric physical therapists address underlying deficits in infants and children that lead to limitations in their mobility and gross motor skills. In infants, physical therapists work on their gross motor skill development in terms of learning how to move in their environment (rolling, sitting, pull to stand, etc). Physical therapists work with children on achieving higher level gross motor skills such as running, jumping and walking up and down stairs. They also address other movement concerns including limitations in balance, coordination and core strength.

So what exactly are gross motor skills?

Gross motor skills involve using large muscles of the torso, arms and legs to complete whole body movements, such as throwing a ball or doing jumping jacks. Children achieve different gross motor milestones over time and rely on these skills to have successful experiences at school, on the playground and in the community. While there are gross motor developmental norms based on age, every child develops at a varying pace, and it can be hard not to compare your child to their peers. You may have noticed that your child has difficulty with some gross motor skills, but how do you know when they need physical therapy?

Below we list for you some signs that your child may need to see a physical therapist, as well as gross motor milestones for ages 1.5 to 6 years. If your child displays any of these signs or is falling behind meeting the gross motor milestones for their age, they may benefit from an evaluation by a physical therapist. Schedule your appointment here.

Here are some signs that may indicate that your child needs to see a physical therapist:

  • Your child is having difficulty returning to his/her previous level of function after a sports injury (i.e. limping, decreased flexibility, etc.)
  • Your child frequently falls, trips or seems to be off balance
  • Your child has difficulty sitting up straight while sitting on the floor, preferring to rest their head in their hands, or often slumps when sitting at a desk
  • Your child is displaying decreased strength (i.e. difficulty walking up and down stairs or getting up off the floor)
  • Your child has difficulty keeping up with his/her peers on the playground or at school during recess
  • Your child has difficulty with coordination of his/her movements including tasks such as jumping jacks
  • Your child chronically complains of pain in the same body part
  • Your child is developmentally delayed (see developmental norms below)
  • Your child walks on their toes most of the time for greater than 6 months

Gross Motor Developmental Norms: 

18 Months:

  • Sits, crawls, walks
  • Rolls a ball in imitation of an adult
  • Throws a ball forward
  • Stands on 1 foot with help

2 years:

  • Begins running
  • Carries large toy while walking
  • Climbs onto/down from furniture without assistance
  • Walks backward
  • Walks up/down steps with support
  • Picks up toys from the floor without falling over

3 years:

  • Climbs jungle gym and ladders
  • Walks up/down stairs using alternate feet
  • Jumps in place with two feet together
  • Able to walk on tip toes
  • Rides tricycle

4 years:

  • Balances on one foot for 5 seconds
  • Runs around obstacles
  • Kicks a ball forward
  • Hops on 1 foot
  • Jumps over an object and lands with both feet at the same time
  • Able to walk forward on a line

5 years:

  • Able to walk up stairs while holding an object
  • Skips forward after a demonstration
  • Catches a small ball using hands only
  • Walks backward, toe-heel
  • Jumps forward 10 times without falling
  • Hangs from a bar for at least 5 seconds
  • Does a somersault

6 years:

  • Runs lightly on toes
  • Walks on balance beam
  • Rides bicycle
  • Rhythmic skipping
  • Jumps rope
  • Demonstrates mature throwing and catching patterns

-Julie Butt, Physical Therapist