Cerebral palsy hinders proper motor development due to which a child’s movement and muscle coordination gets impaired. However, there are a number of treatments that help a child overcome his disabilities. Physical therapy is one of the treatment options available, which is of great help to the child.
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that develops in early childhood. It occurs as a result of damage caused to the brain that impairs muscle coordination and body movement. Though not progressive, the damage can’t be reversed. Although congenital in most cases, it is not detected until a child is a few months or a year old. Early symptoms surface before a child turns three. However, it can develop after birth as a result of head injury due to accidents, or brain infections like bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis.
Cerebral palsy can’t be completely cured. However, there are a number of treatments that may help a child overcome the disabilities associated with this disorder. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy often prove useful for children affected by this condition. Certain drugs may also be prescribed to control seizures, muscle spasms, and pain that are associated with this condition. Sometimes, surgery may also be performed to remove physical abnormalities or relax tight muscles.
Cerebral palsy seriously impairs a child’s ability to move. The freedom and fun that every child is entitled to can be restored with the help of physical therapy. A physical therapist based on the diagnosis will assess the physical and cognitive limitations of the child. He will go through the medical history of child, and then design a treatment schedule depending upon his age, abilities, and limitations. The therapy involves stretching, strengthening, and repositioning of the muscles. This neurological disorder causes the muscles to become tight.
Hence, stretching them daily to increase flexibility, is an important component of the physical therapy. The muscles are stretched by moving the limbs in such a way that it causes a slow and steady pull on the muscles. The therapist helps the child to carry out exercises that would strengthen specific muscles for better support and movement. Positioning is done to reduce unwanted tone and to attain long stretches. For this purpose, a number of devices like braces, knee mobilizers, pillows, casts, or splints may be used.
In the treatment a physical therapist may use the ‘bobath’ technique and ‘patterning’. Sometimes due to cerebral palsy a child tends to retain some of the primitive reflexes. Using the bobath technique, a physical therapist relieves the primitive reflexes by repeated positioning of the limb in the opposing movement. For example, if the limb of a child remains normally flexed, a physical therapist would extend it repeatedly.
Through ‘patterning’ the physical therapist encourages a child to attain movements that develop along the normal path of motor development. For example, a child would first be taught to crawl and stand, and then walk. Although certain therapists have reservations regarding ‘patterning’ due to lack of documented evidence, it has proved to bear results.
Role of the Family
Although physical therapy sessions are mostly done at hospitals, or at the clinic, the role of parents and family is also important. It is often seen that the patients respond better to the treatment in comfortable surroundings of their home. As most of the physical therapy activities are simple, parents can easily learn them and help their children with these exercises at home. Also, their presence provides a positive reinforcement to the child, that helps them respond better to physical therapy. In fact, the therapy often includes interactive play. Children are often encouraged to play with their family members and with other children of the same age for effective treatment.
The module of the therapy changes over time, as a child may not retain the same disabilities, he did during infancy. The treatment program needs to be updated continuously according to the needs of the child.
Restricted physical movement may often dent a child’s confidence. Hence, a physical therapist needs to be more than a trained professional, who can help a child overcome his physical disabilities. He has to act like a friend who would encourage the child every time he fails to stand up on his feet.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.