Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android


The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is a technologically advanced setting that provides services to infants who require highly specialized services. Infants who are served in the NICU are at high risk both medically and developmentally, requiring a team approach to their complex care. Physical therapists who work in the NICU provide examination, evaluation, and intervention to these high-risk infants. NICU care is a specialized area within pediatric physical therapy, involving a different approach than that used in other types of pediatric settings. Due to the physiological, medical, and developmental issues facing infants in the NICU, physical therapists working in the NICU require pediatric experience and advanced training (Sweeney, Heriza, & Blanchard, 2009). Advanced training is necessary to safely provide services to these fragile infants and their families. This chapter provides a basic overview of service delivery in the NICU. Further study is required for physical therapists wishing to work in a NICU, especially the most intensive level III nursery.

Infants Served

The NICU serves infants with a variety of diagnoses. Infants admitted to the NICU are born both preterm and full-term. Infants who show signs of central nervous system (CNS) impairment, specific neuromuscular or orthopedic problems, multiple medical or genetic problems, abnormal feeding behaviors, and other symptoms that put infants at risk for developmental problems are often referred to physical therapy in the NICU (McCarton, Wallace, Divon, & Vaughn, 1996; Taylor, Klein, Schatschneider, & Hack, 1998) (Table 15.1).

Table 15.1Premature birth:Low birth weight:Very low birth weight:Small for gestational age (SGA):Large for gestational age (LGA):Microcephaly:Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy:Genetic syndromes and diseases:Compromised respiration:Persistent feeding problems:Seizure disorder:Amniotic band syndrome:Myelomeningocele:

Common Diagnoses of Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Full-term infants are those ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.