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Physical Therapy for Heart Patients

How Does Physical Therapy Help Heart Patients?

Physical therapy (PT) can help in the care of infants and children with heart or cardiac conditions. Physical therapists can identify problems that affect gross motor skills (such as sitting, crawling, standing or walking). PT can reduce the effects of lying in bed and can help the child move with more ease and comfort.

Conditions a Physical Therapist May Identify

PT may identify:

  • Delays in being able to sit, crawl, walk, run and play (gross motor skills)
  • Decreased endurance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited muscle flexibility
  • Abnormal movement patterns
  • Poor posture

Signs That Your Child May Benefit from PT

  • Developmental delay (not being able to move and play like other children their age)
  • Poor tolerance for position changes or developmentally appropriate positions (e.g. not being able to lie on one side or their belly)
  • Rapid fatigue with handling and / or active movement
  • Working hard to breathe or decreased oxygen saturation with movement
  • Muscle tremor
  • Limitations in range of motion

When a child is in the hospital, a PT evaluation can be done at the child's bedside. The therapist may look at:

  • Positioning (Is the child comfortable lying or sitting in different positions or limited to being on their back?)
  • Level of arousal
  • Ability to feel touch and movement
  • Range of motion / flexibility
  • Strength
  • Control of posture and movement
  • Endurance
  • Gross motor skills
  • Functional skills (bed mobility, transfers, mobility)

Treatments to Promote Function

After the evaluation, the physical therapist will develop a treatment plan. This may include:

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

The physical therapist may also suggest and help the family get needed equipment. Family education and training is a priority. Therapist work with the family to help them feel confident in helping their child.

As the child gets closer to discharge, the therapists will provide a home program. They may also recommend ongoing PT in the home or an outpatient center. For a child with a cardiac condition it is a good idea to have rechecks with PT as the child grows. This helps to make sure they can move well enough to play and participate at school and home.

Contact Us

Contact Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute

Last Updated 05/2021

Reviewed By Kelly Bonarrigo, DPT

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