Benefits of Physical Therapy For Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects the communication between the brain and the muscles. Fortunately, emerging neuroscience over the past twenty years has shown that almost any brain can be trained through practice to enhance its ability. Modern physical therapy applications have implemented these new findings to yield amazing outcomes for cerebral palsy patients. Child-Physical-Therapy

Physical Therapy Applications for Cerebral Palsy

Cases of cerebral palsy generally fall into one of three categories: ataxic, spastic and athetoid. Physical therapy can help in a variety of ways with all three of these conditions by employing specific exercises and approaches that benefit the symptoms of each condition.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common kind of cerebral palsy. Caused by damage to the brain’s motor cortex and pyramidal tracts of the brain which connect it to the spinal cord, this condition involves exaggerated or jerky movements combined with abnormal reflexes, joint stiffness and severe muscle tension.

Physical therapy for spastic cerebral palsy focuses on exercises that stretch and improve flexibility in order to improve joint and tissue mobility.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

About 10 percent of cerebral palsy patients are diagnosed with this variety of cerebral palsy, which is caused by damage to the brain’s basal ganglia and/or cerebellum. These areas of the brain govern balance, coordination and voluntary motor function. Athetoid cerebral palsy symptoms include “floppiness” of the limbs, little to no control over movements, and posture problems.

Physical therapy for athetoid cerebral palsy focuses on finer motor skills, such as holding objects or correcting posture, and overcoming sensory impairments that make these tasks more difficult. Face and tongue exercises are often used to help prevent grimacing or drooling.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

This type of cerebral palsy accounts for a very small percentage of cases. It is caused by damage to the cerebellum, so it shares certain symptoms with athetoid cerebral palsy. However, it can also involve tremors, reduced muscle tone, difficulty speaking and problems with depth perception.

Physical therapy for ataxic cerebral palsy not only employs various exercises to strengthen muscles for balance and reflex improvement, but also uses massage therapy and orthotic devices like splints to support their efforts.

While these categories help physicians classify certain characteristics of cerebral palsy, it’s nevertheless true that no two cases of cerebral palsy will ever present exactly the same symptoms. This is for the simple reason that no two brains are exactly the same.

For that reason, it is important for parents and caregivers of children with cerebral palsy to seek out a number of different modalities of physical therapy to see which ones yield the best results. As your child grows, it will probably also be necessary to adjust the intensity and duration of their physical therapy application; you may find it beneficial to try new kinds of physical therapy, as well.

What to Expect from Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

While physical therapy is (obviously) physical in nature, it yields benefits that go well beyond the body. The benefits of physical therapy for cerebral palsy patients include emotional balance, mental strength, overall mood improvement, self-esteem, and even social skills.

Some parents are surprised to find that their young child spends much of their physical therapy time simply playing. To the untrained eye, it may look like simple babysitting. But in fact, physical therapists understand that young children’s bodies and brains are largely trained in their early years through play activities. Simple activities such as rolling a ball back and forth can help your child with cerebral palsy gain strength, movement and coordination.   

As your child gets older, physical therapy for cerebral palsy will involve more concentration on activities that deal with the growth spurts that come with age. Walking, communicating, personal hygiene and socialization are just a few of the skills that can be developed through physical therapy.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help You

One final benefit of physical therapy is the way it supports parents and caregivers. Physical therapists provide informed, hands-on training for each stage of your child’s development. A physical therapist can help you understand what your child needs from you and demonstrate how you can help them with positioning, movement, feeding and moderating their emotions and behavior. Physical therapy for cerebral palsy can prove to be a sanity saver to many parents who are overwhelmed with trying to understand their child’s changing needs.

If your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it’s essential to get a strong support network around you. We can help you secure the financial resources to ensure that your child gets the best possible care. Call us today to talk about your case.


Ted Oshman has been with The Oshman Firm since 1988 serving clients for over 25 years. Learn more about Ted's background and featured practice areas here.

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