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  • Dr. Katie Shipley

Why Work With a Pediatric PT and What Kinds of Conditions Do They Treat?

Hello! I am Dr. Katie Shipley, a pediatric physical therapist who specializes in treating babies (ages newborn to new walkers). I graduated PT school in 2009, and started working with adults in the hospital and rehab settings, then switched to working in the pediatric setting at Children’s Mercy Hospital in 2014. I treated a wide variety of ages and diagnoses while I was there, but my favorite place to treat was in the NICU. I started my own practice, Nurturing Touch Physical Therapy and Wellness in 2021 and thoroughly the work I do with babies and their families each day.

I often hear, “Why would a baby need a physical therapist?” which is a great question! There are many reasons a baby may see a PT, however, the top 3 diagnoses I see are: Torticollis/Plagiocephaly, Developmental Delay, and Pre/Post Tongue Tie Release.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these.

  • Torticollis/Plagiocephaly: Torticollis is typically defined as a tightness in the sternocleidomastoid muscle- a muscle in your neck. This often results in a baby preferring to turn their head to one side or tilt their head to one direction (and often times both tilting and turning are present and often to opposite directions by nature of the way the muscle works). Plagiocephaly is a misshaping of the head. It can be caused by torticollis, as a baby will spend most of their time looking to one direction and placing most of the pressure on the side of the head they are looking to-causing it to flatten, or it can be caused by in- utero positioning (baby stays in one spot for a good portion of the pregnancy, and the head isn’t able to round out as well). As a PT, I work with loosening tight muscles (while the tightness is prominent in the neck, most babies have tension in other places throughout the body), and then strengthening the muscles that are weak, to help the baby find and sustain a midline head/body position. This is done through exercises and play activities. I also look for asymmetrical development (is baby only preferring to do an activity to one side, like reaching for a toy, or rolling to one side, as a result of the torticollis?) and we address this. If plagiocephaly is present, we work on ways for reposition the baby in the crib and car seat to help address the head shape.

  • Developmental Delay: I work with babies are behind in gross motor milestones (ie. rolling, sitting, crawling, walking), whether due to a diagnosis or just being a bit behind. We work hard in our therapy sessions to strengthen muscles, gain range of motion that may be lacking and challenge babies through play to work towards their next milestone, and then parents continue to work on these activities at home.

  • Tongue Tie Release (Before and After): A baby may have difficulty nursing or taking a bottle due to Tethered Oral Tissue (TOTS), which you may have heard as a tongue, lip and/or buccal tie. Some babies require release of this tissue by a trained provider (pediatric dentist or ENT) to allow them to have the optimal oral motor function needed for nursing and/or bottle feeding and to assist with many other things (sleep, eating solid foods, etc). I work with babies before a tongue tie release to help reduce tension throughout their body and in their mouth, to address nervous system regulation, and to improve as much range of motion, strength, coordination and endurance as possible before release to allow for an optimal outcome post release. After the release, we are working on these same things- there is now more motion in the mouth to work on increasing strength, endurance, coordination and we watch for appropriate healing with a goal of finding much smoother nursing or bottle feeding and optimal tongue position in the mouth. It will take a little time, but it so often brings great results for baby and parents.

Besides working with the cutest babies all day long, another part of my job that I thoroughly enjoy is collaborating. First and foremost, I’m collaborating with the parents. I need hear their input and feedback on what is going on with their baby at evaluation and throughout the course of our time together. They are also the greatest source of therapy for their baby as they are the ones working with their baby day in and day out on the exercises/activities given for their baby, so I want to make sure they are involved in the process and know what to work on to help their baby.

I also get to collaborate with many other members of the baby’s team including lactation consultants, chiropractors, pediatricians and pediatric dentists. We all bring a different lens to the table and when we work together, it promotes the best outcome for the baby.

A lot of what physical therapists do is look at strength, tension, how the nervous system is working with the body and how it all relates to function. I feel so lucky that I get to do this with babies and help set them up with a good foundation early on in life!

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Katie, you can click the link below!

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