What Are Joint Compressions, and How Do Pediatric Occupational Therapists Use Them?

If you are new to the field of pediatric occupational therapy, “joint compressions” may be a new term, but this therapeutic strategy can be extremely helpful when used safely and appropriately. Joint compressions provide proprioceptive input that helps children know where their body is in their environment.

What are joint compressions?

  • Deep pressure applied by the hands to various joints throughout the body
  • Due to the possibility of administering joint compressions incorrectly and potentially injuring a child, joint compressions should ALWAYS be applied by a licensed therapist or a family member that has been trained to do them by a licensed therapist

Who are they used for?

Joint compressions can be used for children who have sensory processing difficulties, these can include, but are not limited to:

  • Children with a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) diagnosis
  • Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis
  • Children who have difficulty with self-regulation

What do joint compressions help with?

  • Joint compressions provide proprioceptive input to the body
    • Proprioceptive input is the information that a child’s body gets from the movement and input to their muscles and joints
    • Based on the pressure or stretch our joints feel moment by moment, our brain is able to understand the location of all of our body parts in relation the environment
    • Is your knee straight or flexed?  If you reach your arm backward will you hit the wall? This information allows us to safely interact with the world around us without tripping or bumping into things
    • Children with difficulties with proprioception may appear to be uncoordinated or often run into other objects or people
    • Some children with proprioception challenges may seek additional sensory input by crashing into items or seeking hugs or squeezes. They may also chew on pens or pencils, or their shirts or hands
    • When a licensed therapist provides joint compressions, it helps the child’s body gain proprioceptive information to eventually better understand where their body is in space independently

What proprioceptive activities can I try with my child?

Because joint compressions should ALWAYS be applied by a licensed therapist or a family member that has been trained to do them by a licensed therapist, there are other ways to give your child the same input if you have not been trained. As with any activity, make sure to monitor your child at all times for safety. Some other methods that you can try with your child include:

  • Yoga – holding yoga poses provide lots of proprioceptive input to the joints
  • Provide deep pressure in different ways:
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    • Make a “sandwich” with your child between couch cushions or pillows and hold pressure on them for 5-10 seconds
  • Core strength poses – holding core strength poses also provide proprioceptive input to the joints
  • Animal walks
  • Wheelbarrow walks
  • Crawling through tunnels, over cushions, up a ladder, etc.
  • Bear hugs

The important thing is finding the technique that works best for your child!

Would you like to learn more about joint compressions in pediatric occupational therapy? Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services and how we can help your child flourish and grow.