Surf Therapy May Have Health Benefits for Kids With Cerebral Palsy

3 min read

Three kids surf in the ocean

If your child with cerebral palsy is growing tired of traditional physical therapy, there are some new options that are proving beneficial for rehabilitation, mobility, and fitness. According to new research, surf therapy for cerebral palsy is just one of the latest therapy options.

Children with cerebral palsy may suffer from many mobility issues, which is why physical therapy is so important.

It helps them move around more easily, builds up their self-confidence, and allows them to become more independent. Yet, physical therapy is not always fun for kids.

For children, the more fun they have, the easier it is to get them to participate. Today, there are many types of cerebral palsy therapies ranging from horseback riding and bicycling to swimming and surfing.

What Is Surf Therapy for Cerebral Palsy?

Surf therapy is teaching children with cerebral palsy how to surf with the aim of improving their strength and fitness.

To start, the instructors learn more about the physical needs of the children. Then the fun begins.

First, the children learn to paddle. Then they progress to balancing on a surfboard while sitting, lying, kneeling, or standing. Once they’ve mastered that, they catch a wave in their preferred position and ride it back to shore. Finally, they paddle back out in the water unassisted.

From the outside, it might seem like this is just an opportunity for kids to have fun and try something new. However, there are many benefits to surf therapy.

Surf therapy for cerebral palsy:

  • Enables kids to sleep better and longer
  • Encourages kids to get involved with other activities
  • Improves range of motion
  • Increases heart and lung endurance
  • Strengthens upper-body and core muscles

Cerebral palsy is not the only condition currently being treated with surf therapy. It is also used with brain injuries, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, Dandy-Walker syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

Study Finds Surf Therapy Beneficial for Cerebral Palsy

An earlier study by researchers found that surf therapy was beneficial for children with general mobility disorders. A 2019 study took a slightly different angle.

The researchers wanted to compare the fitness levels of children who underwent surf therapy and children who just spent time playing in a pool.

The kids who chose surf therapy had eight weeks of lessons, and the children who chose the pool had eight weeks of pool play. The children’s fitness levels were tested before and after the study period.

When the results came in, the researchers found that all the children had improved their core strength, upper-body strength, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory (heart and lung) endurance. The surfers also lost weight and their bone mineral density (bone strength) improved.

Physical Rehabilitation Important for Kids With Cerebral Palsy

Because cerebral palsy affects mobility, physical rehabilitation is essential. Physical therapy helps children build their strength, avoid joint deformities, maintain a healthy weight, and become more mobile.

But that is not all. Physical therapy, like surf therapy, also helps the children emotionally and mentally.

Children who participate in surf therapy can:

  • Build up their self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Find a love of physical activity
  • Form friendships
  • Lower their anxiety levels
  • Relax easier

These benefits are incredibly significant for children with cerebral palsy, as many will need emotional care throughout their life.

As it stands, almost 20% of people cerebral palsy will experience depression, and around 16% will deal with anxiety disorders. But friendships, a sense of independence, and something to look forward to can be a buffer between them and mental health issues.

However, treatments like surf therapy are not always affordable. Parents of children with cerebral palsy may be able to seek legal compensation if the cause of cerebral palsy was medical negligence. Compensation will help give children access to the top therapies and emerging treatments for cerebral palsy.

For more information, contact the Birth Injury Justice Center today.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
  1. Clapham, E.D., Lamont, L.A., Shim M., Lateef, S. & Armitano, C.N. (2019). Effectiveness of surf therapy for children with disabilities. Disability and Health Journal.
  2. Clapham, E.D., Lamont, L.A., Shim M., Lateef, S. & Armitano, C.N. (2015). Benefits of surfing for children with disabilities: A pilot study. Palestra 29(3): 31-34. doi:10.18666/PALAESTRA-2015-V29-I3-6912
  3. Carvalho, J. (2019, August 26.) Surf Therapy Improves Physical Fitness of CP Children, Study Says. Cerebral Palsy News Today. Retrieved from