Role of the neonatal physical therapist
The role of the physical therapist (PT) in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), transitional care unit, or follow-up clinic is to evaluate and treat the sensorimotor function of the developing infant. Physical therapists trained to work in this clinical area are not only considered specialists in the multifaceted aspects of infant development, but are also acute care specialists, with extensive clinical expertise in dealing with critically ill pediatric patients. The purpose of an evaluation by a neonatal PT is to
Recognize musculoskeletal impairments.
Identify positioning techniques to improve flexion.
Determine ways to enhance neurobehavioral organization through adaptations in the infant's environment.
The physical therapist's goal of promoting an infant's sensorimotor development needs to be addressed as soon as the parent and the infant are stable after birth. Providing positioning and environmental recommendations to the parents and nursing team can be instrumental in preventing posture and movement deviations typically seen in acutely ill infants. A PT is often one of the first team members to educate parents on the specific developmental needs of the “high-risk infant.”