Muscle Strength Training for Cerebral Palsy

3 min read

A physical therapist supports a child with cerebral palsy during strengthening exercises for CP child, using a walker in a well-equipped therapy room.

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. Research shows it enhances muscle mass, boosts metabolism, and increases bone density.

This form of exercise was once discouraged for most types of cerebral palsy (CP) due to a link to increased spasticity. However, new research shows that cerebral palsy strength training can help patients become more mobile and stronger.

Strengthening exercises for cerebral palsy can help improve:

  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Muscle strength
  • Posture

Cerebral palsy strength training is also connected with improved walking ability and increased activity levels in cerebral palsy patients. This can be especially beneficial for patients who struggle to move freely and complete daily activities.

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Studies Find Benefits of Strength Training for Cerebral Palsy Patients

New research suggests that cerebral palsy symptoms may be lessened by improved muscle strength.

Strength training is safe for young people with cerebral palsy and helps increase muscle strength, with benefits lasting about 11 weeks after they stop training. This finding was published in a 2023 issue of the medical journal Physiotherapy.

Another study published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation found that strength training can be beneficial for cerebral palsy patients, especially those with spastic cerebral palsy.

This study was designed to analyze how strength training affects the functioning, activity levels, and participation of 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 study's results showed substantial improvements in the strength training group's muscle strength, walking speed, posture, balance, and gross motor function. Strength training was also much more effective than 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 for cerebral palsy is one of the most common forms of treatment for CP symptoms. It usually focuses on regaining muscle control, 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 appropriate for your child will depend on their individual needs and preferences. However, it should involve increased intensity levels to ensure strength improvements greater than those expected from normal development.

Is Strength Training Right for My Child?

Recent study results have led researchers to believe that 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, talk to their doctor or physical therapist. They can recommend a treatment plan tailored to your child's specific needs.

The team at Cerebral Palsy Guide is committed to supporting families affected by CP. Our patient advocates are always available to help.

Additionally, we have registered nurses on staff who can answer questions about your child’s condition.

Call us at (855) 220-1101 right now or download our FREE Cerebral Palsy Guide to learn more about how we can help.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

  1. Bania, T.A., et al. (2023, June). What are the optimum training parameters of progressive resistance exercise for changes in muscle function, activity and participation in people with cerebral palsy? A systematic review and meta-regression. Science Direct. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031940622001006
  2. Iliades, C. (2023, April 12). 8 ways strength training boosts your health and fitness. Everyday Health. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/workouts/strengthening-equipment.aspx
  3. May, B. (2021, September 30). Strength training may benefit gross motor function in children with cerebral palsy. Neurology Advisor. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://www.neurologyadvisor.com/topics/pediatric-neurology/strength-training-muscle-strength-balance-children-adolescents-cerebral-palsy/
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2023, April 29). Strength training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/strength-training/art-20046670
  5. Özal, C., et al. (2016, February 21). Strength training in people with cerebral palsy. IntechOpen. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/51987
  6. Scholtes, V.A. et al. (2008, October 8). Lower limb strength training in children with cerebral palsy – a randomized controlled trial protocol for functional strength training based on progressive resistance exercise principles. BMC Pediatrics. Retrieved May 14, 2024, from https://bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2431-8-41