Although strength training for cerebral palsy was once believed to increase stiffened muscles (spasticity), new studies show it is beneficial. Exercises such as resistance training, bicycle exercise, weight training, and aquatic training are shown to improve body structure and function. It is important to understand that an individualized approach is needed for each child.
How Does Strength Training Help Cerebral Palsy?
Strength training is a form of physical exercise that improves the body's endurance.
While strength training was once discouraged for cerebral palsy patients due to a link with increased spasticity, new research shows that it can help patients become more mobile and stronger.
Strength training can help cerebral palsy patients by improving:
- Muscle strength
Strength training is also linked with improved walking ability and increased activity levels in cerebral palsy patients. This can be especially beneficial for cerebral palsy patients that struggle to move freely and complete daily activities.
Study Finds Benefits of Strength Training for Cerebral Palsy Patients
New research suggests that cerebral palsy symptoms may be alleviated by improved muscle strength.
A recent study published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation found that strength training can be beneficial for cerebral palsy patients, especially those with spastic cerebral palsy.
The study was designed to analyze how strength training affects the functioning, activity levels, and participation in children and teenagers diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Of the cerebral palsy patients studied:
- Participants ranged in age from 3 to 22 years old
- The participants were spastic cerebral palsy patients
- 873 patients were studied with 452 patients undergoing strength training
The results of the study showed substantial improvements in the muscle strength, walking speed, posture, balance, and gross motor function of the strength training group. The study also showed strength training was much more effective when compared to other physical therapy techniques.
While the results are promising, it is very important to note that strength training in cerebral palsy patients should be tailored to each individual.
Strength Training in Cerebral Palsy Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for cerebral palsy symptoms. It usually focuses on regaining control of muscles, loosening stiff muscles, and improving balance and posture.
Incorporating strength training in cerebral palsy physical therapy sessions can be an effective way to reap the benefits of both treatment options.
Your child’s physical therapist can create a customized treatment plan that may include strength training to best fit your child’s needs.
Strength training in cerebral palsy physical therapy may include:
- Aquatic training: Water-based exercises that strengthen muscles
- Bicycle and treadmill exercises: Increases overall strength and endurance
- Electrotherapy: Electrical impulses that help build muscles by causing contractions
- Isokinetic training: Resistance-based exercises that create muscle contraction at constant speeds
- Progressive resistance exercise: Strength training that is gradually increased to build up muscle tone
- Sports and recreation: Incorporates activities a cerebral palsy patient already enjoys to build strength and endurance
- Upper extremity strengthening: Improves strength in the arms
- Weight training: Uses weights (such as ankle weights) to enhance results when improving strength and endurance
The type of strength training that is appropriate for your child will depend on their individual needs and preferences. It should, however, involve increased intensity levels to ensure strength improvements are greater than what normal development would be.
Is Strength Training Right For My Child?
In light of recent study results, researchers believe strength training combined with task-specific training may improve mobility for cerebral palsy patients.
“Strength training has the potential to reduce muscle weakness and improve walking ability of children with cerebral palsy.”
—Cerebral Palsy News Today
If you believe your child could benefit from strength training, consult their doctor or physical therapist so they can recommend a treatment plan to suit their specific needs.
To learn more about cerebral palsy and treatment options, download our free Cerebral Palsy Guide today.