A study published last month conclusively stated that shock wave therapy for children with spastic cerebral palsy is a viable treatment option to improve gait and mobility. This type of treatment for cerebral palsy has been researched extensively in the past, but the authors of this study weren’t shy in flatly stating that “shock wave therapy is effective in the treatment of [spastic] muscles which help those children to become more independent and participate in everyday activities.”
The study specifically looked at children with spastic hemiplegia, which is a type of cerebral palsy defined by rigidity in one side of the body and occurs in approximately 20 percent of all cases of CP.
One of the main problems children with spastic hemiplegia struggle with is walking normally. Although most children with this type of cerebral palsy learn how to walk, the rigidity in their foot causes them to walk with an awkward gait. These children usually have high muscle tone in either their right or left foot, which prevents them from being able flex the muscles in the foot necessary for walking properly.
The specific problem areas in question are the plantar flexor muscles. High tension in these muscles causes children with CP to walk on the tips of their toes. This creates an unbalanced cadence when walking because the foot is not able to be placed flat on the floor.
What Exactly Is Shock Wave Therapy?
The traditional treatments for correcting gait in children with spastic hemiplegia encompass a variety of physical therapies. Stretching the muscles, plaster casts, splints and even medicines to relieve muscle tension have all been used to help reduce muscle tension and improve a child’s ability to walk. But shock wave therapy can be just as effective.
Although it may sound intense to the uninitiated, shock wave therapy is a simple, noninvasive treatment to reduce muscle tension. A physical therapist simply applies a gel and uses a device to deliver the “shock waves” to the foot.
These shock waves are actually strong sound waves that travel through the tissue and muscle of the foot to relieve any tension and reduce muscle tone. Shock wave therapy is commonly used to treat plantar fasciitis and sports-related muscle injuries.
How Effective Was the Study?
This study tested the effects of shock wave therapy among a group of thirty children with spastic hemiplegia. Fifteen of the children underwent typical physical therapy procedures and received three sessions of shock wave therapy over the course of a week. The other 15 children were the control group and were only treated via traditional physical therapy. The purpose of the control group was for the researchers to have a basis of comparison, and what they found was encouraging.
In one short week of receiving shock wave therapy, the children treated had a significant improvement in gait and mobility over the control group.
By reducing the muscle tone in the affected foot, the children with spastic hemiplegia were more capable of placing their foot firmly and evenly on the ground, allowing them to walk faster, with smoother cadence and in longer strides. The children in the study had a reduction in spasticity that lasted for up to two months.
Is Shock Wave Therapy Right for Your Child?
Physical therapy is the touchstone of treatment for children with spastic hemiplegia. Shock wave therapy is certainly an option for many of these children, but it may not be as effective for children with more severe cases of rigidity. It also may not be as effective for other types of spastic cerebral palsy. The best thing parents can do is talk to their child’s physical therapist about whether they offer shock wave therapy and if it is an option for their child.