Swings: Not Just for Recess

Pediatric PTs find new and innovative uses for therapy equipment

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In the therapy world, each different treatment setting has some exclusive hallmarks associated with it. In the pediatric environment, the therapists are given the unique opportunity to let their imaginations run wild, making therapy fun and even exciting for a child to participate in.  These therapists need to have a variety of interventions that will engage children while simultaneously improving their function and mobility. 

Given that this creativity is necessary for nearly every treatment session, it inevitably happens at one point or another that we get stuck in an "idea rut." One solution is re-conceptualizing existing tools; and what better place to start than with our swings.  It is the intent of this article to help re-acquaint therapists with the different types of suspended equipment available and to help them generate current and child-relevant ideas when using the therapy swing in their repertoire.

For years, physical and occupational therapists have been using suspended equipment as tools for therapeutic interventions.  They can be seen across many pediatric environments including outpatient facilities, school systems, and even homes.  Both children and adolescents, with an assortment of impairments and disorders, can benefit from the use of therapy swings.  They are used for children with everything from sensory integration or processing issues to ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Muscular Dystrophy.1-6  Children who are developmentally delayed generally do not get adequate stimulation and for these children, a therapy swing can offer them the stimulation they are lacking.7

QUICK THINKING: The therapist helps a child use a trapeze swing to play Angry Birds while working on upper extremity strength and motor planning. Photo by Mark Ross, 2012.

 Therapy swings meet children's needs in a variety of ways.  They offer opportunities for improving arm, leg, and trunk strength, increased body awareness, and sensory and proprioceptive integration.1-8  They also help children who have difficulty maintaining their equilibrium and tolerating stimulus.  In addition, the swinging motion impacts the vestibular system, which can improve a child's balance and in turn their stair navigation and ambulation skills.1-3, 5, 6  Improvements in motor coordination, ability to put movements together, and sequencing skills have also been observed as a result of therapy swing.8  And of course, the motion of the swing can be relaxing and calming for children who become overstimulated.1-4  Ultimately, swings are just plain fun for children of all ages. 

 Therapy swings come in all different shapes and sizes.  Therapists have to make the decision as to which type of swing is most appropriate for a given child, keeping in mind that child's individual goals.  Each swing targets improvement/development of different functional areas.  Listed are some of the various swing styles available along with a description and individual benefits.  Also included are some ideas for renewing how we as therapists "play" during swing activities, hopefully sparking the therapist's own contemporizing of activities.


Platform Swing

What it is: A carpeted, wooden platform hung by 4 ropes on the periphery of the board. 

Benefits: This type of swing provides vestibular and proprioceptive input as well as increasing body awareness.  It can be used to develop better postural control and upper body strength as well as enhance motor control and hand-eye coordination.  A variety of positions can be utilized with a platform swing such as sitting, kneeling, standing, quadruped, and prone lying. 

Making it new: Have the child soar on "Aladdin's magic carpet" while they maintain tall kneel, quadruped, or even standing.  For a higher functioning child, have them catch a ball you toss to them while they swing, or have them stand back from the swing and toss bean bags so that they land on the moving swing.


Net Swing

What it is: Soft, durable, netted rope that comes up on 2 sides around the child.  Benefits: Sensory integration and vestibular input are the big benefits of using a net swing, but it can be used to strengthen a child as well.  The net stretches to fit the child, and places a compressive force on the their muscles and joints.  This type of swing is very calming to the nervous system because it hugs the body.  It can be used in the prone or sitting position. 

Making it new: With the child in prone with their head and arms out of the swing, toss the child a ball to catch.  Alternately, in the same position, have them pretend they are Buzz-Lightyear rescuing toys on the ground and bringing them to "safety" on a higher bench.


Cuddle Swing/Airwalker

What it is:  A soft, stretchy, fabric swing that encompasses the child while they sit on a large soft cushion. 

Benefits: This swing provides deep touch pressure and a cocoon-womb like feeling.  Relaxation and calming are the key benefits to using the Cuddle Swing but like the net swing can be used to increase strength and coordination. 

Making it new: Have them try to maintain a quadruped position while pretending they are a train running over tricky tracks.  Alternately, for a calming effect, turn down the lights and read a short book, sing a song, or listen to music while they are swinging back and forth.


Climbing Ladder/Tower

What it is: A rope ladder with 5-6 wooden/solid rungs and a platform at the top; a tower is similar but is made of 4 ladders put together to form a square. 

Benefits: Using the climbing ladder enhances a child's bilateral coordination in addition to improving posture and targets upper extremity, lower extremity, and trunk strength. 

Making it new: Pretend the child is climbing up Rapunzel's tower.  Alternately, put little toys or puzzle pieces on top of the platform that they need to take down one-at-a-time.


Also Online!

Fun With Therapy

Look at how therapists from one clinic treat kids with sensory processing disorders.

Bolster Swing

What it is: A horizontal bolster suspended from a rope attached to each end. 

Benefits: While straddling a bolster, children will improve their postural stability and balance.  Additionally, the way a child holds onto the swing to maintain their position targets strength as well. 

Making it new: Set up several bolsters on their side (vertical); have the child straddle the bolster and swing themself forward to knock the bolsters down.  Alternately, have the child in prone with legs extended off the floor while you sing them a favorite song.


Trapeze Swing

What it is:  A single, horizontal bar suspended by both ends to the support system above. 

Benefits:  Children who use trapeze swings will improve their upper extremity and trunk strength.  A trapeze swing can work to enhance motor coordination, balance, and muscle tone.  It also provides vestibular stimulation and orientation.  Children can swing from either their hands or knees. 

Making it new:  Build a wall/tower with large cardboard blocks and bolsters.  Play Angry Birds and have the child swing to knock down the walls.

1. Danto A, Pruzansky M. 1001 Pediatric Treatment Activities: Creative Ideas for Therapy Sessions. SLACK Incorporated. 2011.
2. Squidoo. Parenting & Kids: Therapy Swings. (2012). Accessed Feb 14, 2012. http://www.squidoo.com/therapy-swingsDreamGYM. 3. Swing Therapy for Autistic Children. (2009). Accessed Feb 14, 2012. http://dreamgym.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/swing_therapy_autistic_children/
4. Sensory Edge. Indoor Therapy Swings: Exercise and Fun. (2011). Accessed Feb 14, 2012. http://www.sensoryedge.com/capa.html
JB Hylton, C Hylton. Therapeutic Swing. (2011). Patent Application Publication.
6. LJ Biz. Suspension Swing Therapy. Dreamweavers Hammock Co. Accessed Feb 14, 2012. http://dreamweavershammocks.com/pages/suspension_swing.html
7. Take A Swing. Swinging as therapy is a component of Sensory Integration therapy. (2008). Accessed Feb 14, 2012. http://www.takeaswing.com/bos.html
8. Possibility Playground. Fixtures and Benefits: Therapeutic Swings. (2011). Accessed Feb 14, 2011. http://possibilityplayground.org/fixtures-and-benefits/#276



Jane Ruge, PT, DPT.is a physical therapist that has been practicing in pediatrics for 9 years.   She currently works at Cooperative Association for Special Education in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.  She also teaches pediatric physical therapy at Northern Illinois University


Ellen Hanson, DPT, is a physical therapist at Desert Valley Pediatric Therapy in Phoneix. She graduated from Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois in 202 and completed her clinical experience in school-based pediatrics.


I am a pediatric PT. Can anyone tell me how long a child needs to swing in order to get the benefits of swinging? I would love to read research on this topic if anyone knows of literature related to this.

Mary January 26, 2014


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