Physical Therapy for Heart Patients

Look up a term in The Heart Center glossary.

Physical therapy may assist in the care of infants and children with complex cardiac conditions. The physical therapist performs an evaluation to identify problem areas that may interfere with optimal motor function.

Physical therapy treatment can be initiated to promote optimal positioning and to reduce the negative effects associated with prolonged immobility and critical illness.

As the medical status stabilizes, the physical therapist advances activities to reduce debilitation and promote appropriate gross motor function.

Children with cardiac conditions may demonstrate decreased endurance, muscle weakness, limited muscle flexibility, abnormal movement patterns and postural impairments that interfere with optimal motor function and development.

In addition, decreased control of posture and movement can also contribute to restricted function. 

A physical therapy evaluation can be performed at the child's bedside. The following areas may be assessed:

  • Positioning
  • Level of arousal / sensory responsiveness
  • Range of motion / muscle flexibility
  • Muscle strength
  • Control of posture and movement
  • Endurance
  • Gross motor function
  • Functional skills (bed mobility, transfers, mobility)

Signs and Symptoms of Debilitation That Interferes With Motor Function

  • Poor tolerance for position changes or developmentally appropriate positions
  • Rapid fatigue with handling and / or active movement
  • Increased work of breathing and decreased oxygen saturation with active movement
  • Decreased ability to actively move against gravity
  • Muscle tremor with active movement
  • Limitations in range of motion

Following evaluation, the physical therapist will develop a treatment plan designed to address the identified problem areas. Physical therapy treatments will then be initiated and may include:

  • Positioning programs
  • Splinting
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Gross motor activities
  • Functional activities, including transfers and ambulation

The physical therapist will identify any equipment needs and assist the family with obtaining appropriate items. In addition, family education / training is a priority during physical therapy sessions to ensure optimal carryover and management of the child's functional needs.

As the child prepares for discharge, the physical therapist will provide a home program and make recommendations for ongoing physical therapy services as appropriate.


Last Updated 05/2012