Cerebral Palsy Physical Therapy

Cerebral palsy, or static encephalopathy, is the collective name used to describe a broad range of chronic movement disorders affecting body and muscle coordination. These disorders are usually caused by damage to one or more areas of the brain. Cerebral palsy is the leading cause of physical disability among children and while the disorder is incurable, there are treatments available that help to improve movement.

The severity of the limitations a child may face in gross motor functionality may vary greatly, with some needing battery powered wheelchairs to move while others may be able to walk without assisting devices. A physical therapist helps the child to learn better ways to move, balance, walk, use their wheelchair, to stand without assistance and climb or descend stairs safely.

Physical therapy for children with cerebral palsy consists of both exercise activities as well as education on how to improve flexibility, strength, mobility, and function. A physical therapist also designs, modifies and orders special equipment which is adapted to the child's body and needs. Although a physical therapy session can take place in clinics, hospitals and even schools, the true success of a physical therapy session for a child suffering cerebral palsy lies in an ongoing daily home program.

A good physical therapy program consists of exercises that incorporate stretching, strengthening and positioning. This gives the child a balanced routine that promotes easier movement. The muscles of cerebral palsy patients have greater muscle tone and are, therefore, stiffer. These patients need stretching exercises to keep the muscles lose and flexible. The stretches have to be performed on a daily basis, otherwise the child may actual suffer from greater pain during physical therapy sessions. Strengthening exercises focus on different muscle sets to make them strong enough to support the body, carry out movement and perform different functions. Strengthening exercises help to improve functionality and maintain it as well for the cerebral palsy patient. Positioning exercises help the body to achieve greater balance and remove unwanted tone. Positioning requires the body to be placed in a specific position so a long stretch can be maintained. Many techniques are used to achieve this such as bracing, abduction pillows, knee immobilizers, wheelchair inserts, sitting recommendations, and handling.

The area of physical therapy regarding cerebral palsy is undergoing massive research and new techniques are surfacing. Among these, one of the most widely used ones now a days is the aquatic physical therapy. Using the physical properties of water, cerebral palsy patients are treated with exercises that do not place any unnecessary pressure on their joints but gives their muscles greater mobility. Cerebral palsy patients experience muscle shortening in most of their involved extremities and it becomes a difficult task to lengthen the affected musculature with regular stretching while having to deal with the affects that gravity has on the spastic arm or leg. Water helps to reduce to a great extent.

Physical therapy for cerebral palsy patients and children in particular was frowned upon in the past. But research has shown that stretching exercises lead to improved motor function and greatly help the child to build or regain a lot of lost mobility.