Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a physical disability caused by brain damage. It can affect body movement, muscle control, posture, motor skills, and other functions. There are other causes of Cerebral Palsy, and although most individuals are born with the condition it is possible to acquire it later in life. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, but physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy can help manage the effects on the body.
Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
PT can be used to improve motor skills, relieve pain, reduce muscle stiffness, and overall improve mobility. Exercises will help build a stronger body to make completing everyday tasks less painful for the individual with CP. Physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy is most intense in childhood years.
Each individual is different and will require a unique treatment plan. Before treatment begins, the person is taken through a series of tests to assess the severity of Cerebral Palsy. The following are examined:
- Gait and motion training
- Neurological development
- Sensory Development
- Reflexes to body parts
Physical Therapy: Early Years
In the early years of a child’s life, physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy is usually provided at home, in a daycare center, or in an outpatient clinic. Therapy for this age group should have a very family-centered approach and should intensively engage the parents/caregivers. There is specific training for positioning, movement, feeding, play, and calming.
Most PT for Cerebral Palsy at this age is focused on play. Play therapy can be used to treat many different conditions as it helps children communicate and learn. Therapists will provide suggestions for changes at home to encourage motion, communication, cognitive, and play skills.
Physical Therapy: School Years
With the child entering school, there will be challenges in new environments and treatment will change. Growth will also initiate new treatment plans and most likely the need for different equipment to meet the child’s needs. Physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy during school years focuses on meeting the social and physical changes such as walking, personal hygiene, play, and communication. During this stage, in-school therapy is a great way to ensure that the child is being accommodated and is given the best learning environment. Occupational therapy in the classroom is another form of treatment that can be beneficial.
As adolescent years approach, treatment may shift again to focus on posture and joint limitations. Physical therapists should encourage daily mobility and fitness, and provide recommendations to manage muscle and joint pain. Self-care, daily routines, and socialization are also addressed. Physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy at this age can help the adolescent gain a sense of independence and self-esteem to be able to complete certain tasks with limited help. Plans for future schooling and careers should also be talked about during this time.
In all persons, lifelong habits are formed at this age. It is important to develop health habits such as daily fitness or stretching programs to stay active. Children with CP have a higher risk of becoming stagnant, which can affect their weight and other medical factors.
Physical Therapy: Adulthood
As individuals with CP grow older, the number of intensive therapy sessions decrease. With decreased therapy sessions, physical abilities can also start to diminish. It is important for adults to still attend physical therapy for Cerebral Palsy, even though treatment will change.
Many adults with Cerebral Palsy are highly functional and have careers and families. Most people with CP focus on pain management, and energy conservation in physical therapy sessions. Physical therapists can also suggest new equipment and alterations in order to increase independence. It is important for the adult to continue an exercise program, and to work with the therapist in adapting it as needed.