Children: Pain and Injury

Children suffer many of the same injuries as their adult counterparts. However, the structure of bone and cartilage of the growing child or adolescent is different than that of an adult. As such, children and adolescents carry a higher risk profile for:

  • injuries to growth plates of bones
  • avulsion/traction injuries of bone at tendon attachment sites
  • greenstick fractures to long bones
  • injuries to cartilage (osteochondrosis)
  • children also tend to have difficulty coordinating their ever lengthening limbs and body, which can reasonably be thought to increase risk of injury.

Managing your child’s injury or symptoms is tricky as kids aren’t great at clearly communicating their symptoms.

Should I take my child for physio?

This decision is usually derived from an assessment of the mechanism of injury, how much time has passed since the injury occurred, x-ray/MRI reports etc. Essentially we need to work out… 1. Which tissues and joint structures your child has injured, 2. What stage of healing these injured structures in, 3. Is it safe to start rehabilitative movements and loading of the injury? Feel free to give us a call on 9665 9667. We can have a chat about your child’s specific situation and work out whether Physio appropriate, or whether it makes more sense to visit your GP or other specialist.

Addressing Protective Habits

The decision to start Physio is usually straight forward, given that we have a good understanding of the healing timelines for tissues that children typically injure. Decisions regarding how to safely progress Physio are more complex, because we need to deal not just with the healing injury, but also the protective stiffness, pain and movement habits that set in following injuries to children and adolescents.

Following an injury our bodies shift into “protection mode”. What this means is that the injured joint or body part stiffens and becomes painful. The stiffness is the result of protective tensioning of muscles around the injured area. The pain and stiffness is our body’s most effective mechanism for forcing us to take it easy on our injured joints or body parts. We humans have evolved a very effective mechanism for protecting ourselves if/when we are subjected to trauma. From a treatment perspective, our goal is to ensure that this protective response lasts only as long as is necessary to facilitate complete healing and rehabilitation.

Phases of Treatment


The first phase of your child’s rehabilitation is all about reducing the level of unnecessary guarding in the muscles surrounding the injured joint, and also other muscles that maybe secondarily “protective” following injury.

This occurs naturally, as time passes and the injury heals. However, we can help the process along with manual therapy and gentle movement interventions. The trick is to unload the injured tissues and reduce the extent to which the brain is constantly receiving “danger” messages from the injured body part. Manual therapy techniques that unload the injury and slowly but surely explore the limits of stiffness and pain will help to build up a bank of “non threatening” movement experiences that help to drive a shift out of “protection mode”


Exploring movement follows on from, and usually overlaps with those manual therapy techniques that serve the purpose of calming down the protective responses that arise following injury. The exploring movement phase involves both passive and active components. Passive exploration is where the PT safely maneuvers the injured joint in different directions, with a speed and intensity of movement that results in a decreased stiffness, soreness and pain. Active movement are carried out by your child, under close supervision to ensure for safety and appropriate progressions.

By the end of phase 2, your child will feel will be able to move freely enough to safely commence coordination and strengthening exercises.


We usually begin very basic strength or gentle activation exercises early in the rehabilitation process, as part of a confidence building strategy, to help assist with shifting your child’s system out of “protection mode”.

However, we don’t really start getting into restoration of coordination and strength until the injured body part is moving freely and we are confident that your child’s healing tissues/structures can tolerate loading. Once ready, we begin an exercise regime that follows the principles of graded exposure. Graded exposure is all about making sure we get the dosage of exercise parameters to match your stage of recovery.

Phase 3 is about selecting an appropriate intensity, duration and frequency of load to subject the injury to, and progressing the parameters gradually to facilitate a return to your preferred recreational, sporting and occupational activities.

By virtue of their accelerated metabolism, children and adolescents are quick healers following injury. A rapid resolution of protective stiffness and pain best ensures a rapid and durable resolution of symptoms. The rehabilitation process can be broken down into 3 phases:

  • Calm the protective responses
  • Safely explore movement
  • Safely restore strength and coordination

As always, please feel free to call us 9665 9667 if you have any questions, or require any clarification.





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