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Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy: Treatment and Exercises

Physical therapy for cerebral palsy has often been undervalued in many cases, and that should never have been the case.


Imagine you're taking a walk in the park when something catches your attention. A guy is walking towards you but struggling to keep straight. He keeps swerving around. When you approach, you notice he's got a speech defect, too. Then it dawns on you—he's got cerebral palsy!


Affecting one in every three hundred and forty-five children, cerebral palsy is a monster that eats away their chances of having a normal life. In the United States alone, one in every three hundred and twenty-three children suffer this malady.


Over one million Americans live with it, and one thousand two hundred school-aged children are diagnosed with it yearly. 


But what causes this? Can it be cured? This article answers some of these questions. 


What Is Cerebral Palsy?


Cerebral palsy (or CP) is a disorder that affects a person's psychomotor skills. It makes it nearly impossible for the affected person to control their movements, posture, or balance. Sadly, it is the most common disorder among children.


To break it down further, Cerebral defines functions related to the brain, while Palsy means weakness. CP, therefore, refers to a weakness of the brain. It affects psychomotor skills and may also present other health challenges. But what causes this disorder?


Abnormal brain development, that's the word. In some cases, it could also be caused by damage to the developing brain, resulting in a person's inability to control their muscles, all of these from the womb or before kids attain their second birthday. 


However, the situation is not always the same in every case. For some, it can be severe, requiring them to be cared for all their lives. For others, it could be mild enough to allow them to walk by themselves, although awkwardly. 


Apart from posture and movement, people with CP also experience other disorders like seizures, speech defects, scoliosis, joint problems, intellectual disability, loss of hearing, and vision impairment. 





Signs and Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy


Certain symptoms are prevalent in kids with CP. Although these symptoms do not get worse, they may never go away. What are these symptoms? They vary slightly between babies and toddlers.


For babies, the symptoms often include:

  • Floppiness (low muscle tone when you pick them up),

  • inability to support their heads while sitting,

  • spasms,

  • stiffness,

  • lack of control over muscles, reflexes, and posture

  • developmental delays (failure to sit up or roll over independently by 6 months)

  • challenges with feeding or swallowing, and

  • preference for one side of the body. 


For toddlers, the symptoms are:

  • inability to walk in their first eighteen months,

  • inability to string sentences together by twenty-four months.


While the injury to a toddler’s brain with CP is long-term, it doesn’t mean their situation may get any worse. Generally, kids affected by CP can also show signs of irregular postures, may not be able to walk well, and have reduced joint motion. 





Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy


Signs of cerebral palsy can gradually reveal themselves over time, sometimes leading to a diagnosis several months before a kid’s first birthday. In instances of milder symptoms, diagnosis may be further postponed.


Referral to specialized professionals knowledgeable in managing brain and nervous system disorders is also necessary. These may include pediatric neurologists, pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, and child development experts. You can also book a therapy session with us here


Additionally, some tests may be required to confirm the diagnosis and rule out alternative causes. These tests include:


Brain Scans


Brain-imaging examinations show areas of damage or abnormal brain development.


Common tests include:

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Utilizing radio waves and a magnetic field, MRI generates detailed 3D or cross-sectional images of the brain. While painless, this procedure can be noisy and may require sedation or light anesthesia, lasting up to an hour.

  • Cranial Ultrasound: Often conducted in infancy, cranial ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce brain images. Although less detailed, it’s a quicker form of examination.


Electroencephalogram (EEG)


When seizures are suspected, EEG can provide further evaluation. Electrodes attached to the scalp record brain electrical activity, aiding in diagnosing epilepsy by detecting changes in brain wave patterns.


Laboratory Tests


Blood, urine, or skin tests are also carried out in labs to determine CP in kids. Specialists may also conduct tests to evaluate brain functions like vision, hearing, and speech. 


Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Cerebral Palsy?


The first question any parent would ask once their kid is diagnosed with CP is, “Can it be cured?” Unfortunately, the answer is no.

 

CP, just like many other disorders, can only be managed and not cured. And apart from certain medications which help to strengthen the muscle, the best option is to embrace physical therapy for cerebral palsy. 


Physical therapy is crucial for easing pain, loosening muscles, and improving movement. For people with cerebral palsy, it's a preventive measure that prevents future issues like tight muscles. Starting with physical therapy is key to managing cerebral palsy, as it boosts motor skills and slows down movement problems over time.


With exercises, heat therapy, massages, and special tools, physical therapy helps people with cerebral palsy move better.


The success of physical therapy depends on the severity of the CP. It might be all needed for milder cases, but it might be used alongside other treatments for more severe ones. Starting physical therapy early usually leads to the best results for kids with CP.


Exercises and Techniques for Cerebral Palsy


We've established that physical therapy for cerebral palsy is the most effective option to consider. However, there are certain physical therapy exercises for cerebral palsy that need to be employed to make the situation less unbearable. 


These exercises help maintain posture and movement, improve muscle functions, and reduce the risk of dangerous situations. The exercises are for children and adults, but their application is specific. 


Indeed, kids with CP may not be as mobile as one would imagine. However, this doesn't stop them from being able to exercise. Some exercises they can do include yoga, arm cycling, jogging, Tai Chi, dancing, rowing, chair aerobics, and a few others. 


Of course, these exercises need to be done under proper supervision after you have contacted a specialist. These exercises are useful for helping kids get a better life by improving muscle functions, brainpower, healthy heart and lungs, and endurance. 


Physical Therapy Treatment For Cerebral Palsy in Adults


Physical therapy treatment for cerebral palsy in adults is a little different. It requires determination since adults may be preoccupied with other things. But when followed rightly, these exercises can greatly improve overall health. 


Exercises for adults mainly focus on balancing, coordination, stretching, and flexibility.


Calf stretches are used to reduce contractures by working on calf muscles. To achieve this, there are exercises like the seated calf stretch, which also helps improve mobility. 


Hamstring stretches also improve coordination, posture, and movement and help reduce the risk of muscle tightness. 


Exercising with beams can help improve coordination and balance. Walking on padded beams and doing sit-to-stand routines can greatly improve balance. 


The standing march is another exercise that improves balance and weight bearing. Strengthening the hip flexors makes it easier to lift the legs. 




How Long Does Cerebral Palsy Last?


One question specialists have to answer after diagnosing patients with CP is how long this condition may last. It's heartbreaking to note that there is no definite expiration date for this disorder. As a general rule, some factors could influence life expectancy, and this varies among different patients.


Physical therapy for cerebral palsy plays a huge role in ensuring kids with the disorder can live their lives to the fullest. And despite dark notions, they live as well as other kids do. 


The most important thing to note is that early intervention and quick treatment can help reduce the effect of CP on kids.


Final Thoughts


Cerebral palsy is a terrible disorder, no doubt. It is one of the most devastating things to happen to any kid and more devastating for the parents. But on the bright side, people with CP can go on to live a healthy life. Like any other person, they can grow up happy, have dreams, and become whatever they want. 


By maintaining a healthy diet and employing physical therapy for cerebral palsy, you can not only manage this disorder but also have a joyful life while doing so. This therapy can also help increase healthy living for adults with CP. 



Frequently Asked Questions


How often should someone with cerebral palsy attend physical therapy sessions?


This depends on the severity of the CP. For mild cases, it may be limited to certain hours per week. Physical therapists can often give routines that can be followed from home without visiting a therapy center. 


For severe cases, therapy may be longer than expected. It may last consecutively for weeks as well. CP patients with stroke or scoliosis may even require surgery and a longer time at a rehabilitation center. 


However, physical therapy sessions can be managed by patients and caregivers. It is important to note that following the routine properly is crucial for good results. 


Can physical therapy help improve functional skills such as walking, standing, and reaching for individuals with cerebral palsy?


Yes. Physical therapy works by improving overall muscle health. By engaging in various exercises, people with CP can improve their walking, standing, and reaching by making muscles more flexible. 


Apart from reducing the amount of tightness that causes muscles to contract, physical therapy also allows people with CP to improve their general health. 


Spastic cerebral palsy, which makes kids or adults experience sudden jerky movements, can

also be reduced through physical therapy. Stretching can also reduce the stiffness in muscles over time. 


For kids with CP, which affects only one part of their body, focus on improving movement on the affected part. 


Does insurance cover physical therapy for cerebral palsy?


Physical therapy can be very expensive. Apart from appointments, medications, and hospital bills, physical therapy is needed. Depending on the severity of the CP, orthopedic surgery may also be required. Does insurance cover any of this?


Although insurance companies cover a large part of medical insurance, they may find it hard to offer any form of help, especially if your child has a preexisting condition. And when you do get one, it may be on the high side. 


Some of the covered expenses in government insurance may also omit certain therapy treatments for your kid. However, your kid may be entitled to treatment if a doctor's negligence caused CP.


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