Physical Therapy for Heart Patients

Look up a term in The Heart Center glossary.

Physical therapy (PT) can help in the care of infants and children with heart or cardiac conditionsThe physical therapist will do an evaluation to identify problems that affect gross motor skills.

Treatment can help to reduce the negative effects of lying in bed with an illness. When the child is medically stable, activities can be increased.

Children with cardiac conditions can have:

  • Decreased endurance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited muscle flexibility
  • Abnormal movement patterns
  • Poor posture

In addition, decreased control of posture and movement can limit function. 

A  PT evaluation can be done at the child's bedside. The following areas may be looked at: 

  • 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)
  • 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.  PT 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 may also suggest and help the family get equipment that is needed. Family education and training is a priority during PT sessions to help the family feel confident in helping their child.

As the child gets closer to discharge, the physical therapist will provide a home program.  He or she may also recommend ongoing PT.


Last Updated 12/2015