Therapy and Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

Therapy and Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is not a progressive disorder, meaning it does not worsen over time, but going to therapy and treatment sessions will help improve your child’s quality of life.  Some symptoms can even improve with continued therapy for cerebral palsy.  No two children with CP are the same, so each treatment plan is tailored for each individual.  The different therapy and treatment you use will depend on your child’s needs.

Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy is perhaps the most important therapy and treatment for cerebral palsy.  Children with CP often have poor muscle tone, favor one side, or have difficulty with tense muscles.  Physical therapists for cerebral palsy will use exercises to prevent disuse atrophy, or the deterioration of muscles that are not used, and to prevent contracture, or the muscles that are kept in a rigid position.  Physical therapy also focuses on strength training to build muscle tone.  Physical therapy can also help stretch spastic muscles, which allows the muscles to grow at a rate compatible with bone growth. 

Occupational Therapy

Poor body function and posture are also commonly associated with CP, and occupational therapists work to increase a child’s mobility and help them reach their full potential with regards to daily functions.  Occupational therapy focuses on activities of daily living, or the actions of dressing, eating, bathing, and toileting.  This therapy and treatment helps provide some independence for individuals with CP, thus relieving some responsibility of parents and caregivers.  Occupational therapy might also coincide with physical therapy, and some goals of each therapy are similar, such as to improve muscle tone.

Recreational Therapy

Some additional therapy and treatment for cerebral palsy includes recreational activities such as music and equine therapy.  Equine therapy, also sometimes called hippotherapy (horsebackriding) has shown to be effective for cerebral palsy.  Many success stories include children with CP learning how to walk after equine therapy sessions.  The act of riding a horse improves muscle tone and posture, two key targets for CP treatment, and it also focuses on balance, focus, and coordination.  The instruction for grooming and care of horses also connects with children with CP on an emotional levelMusic therapy works on physical, language, and cognitive development through musical experiences; when these exercises are paired with music, a child with CP is more likely to be motivated to participate.  Other recreational therapy and treatment might include video games and other general physical activity like swimming and sports.

Speech Therapy

Many children with CP struggle with speech, and because of poor muscle coordination, using sign language, hand gestures, or facial expressions is also difficult.  Speech therapy and treatment focuses on the particular needs of a child with CP.  Speech therapists might focus on the child saying a particular letter until that skill is mastered, or they might teach a child with CP how to hold up his head and give eye contact as a better way of communicating socially.  For those children with severe disabilities, speech therapy might also teach the use of assistive communication devices.

Drug Therapy and Surgery

Other therapy and treatment for cerebral palsy includes drugs to manage certain symptoms.  Seizures are fairly common for children with CP, so taking seizure medication might be necessary, as is medication for heartburn or relieving stiff muscles.  When muscle stiffness causes too much pain for walking and moving, orthopedic surgery can help.  Lengthening muscles that are too short through surgery helps with growth and gait.

A combination of therapy and treatment for cerebral palsy is likely necessary, and visits to therapists occur many times a week.  However, through continued treatment, children with CP can maximize their potential.

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Written by: Cara Batema See other articles by Cara Batema
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