Can Exercise Help Children with Cerebral Palsy?
Children with cerebral palsy often have physical impairments, but that does not mean they cannot exercise. In fact, exercise is often extremely beneficial to children with cerebral palsy. Exercise allows them to build muscle strength and flexibility while improving endurance. It also provides an opportunity for socialization with other children and can build self-confidence over time.
Those who exercise regularly increase their sense of well-being and reduce feelings of anxiety or depression. If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you may want to consider exercises such as chair aerobics, dancing or yoga.
There are many different types of exercises that children with cerebral palsy can participate in for leisure and recreation. Some of these exercises may require adaptive equipment such as a brace or wheelchair. One example is wheelchair basketball, which has become quite popular in recent years.
Some children with cerebral palsy may require physical therapy. Physical therapy often consists of an exercise regimen done under the supervision of a trained and licensed physical therapist. Exercises done with a physical therapist can help improve muscle weakness or spasticity, which are relatively common in cerebral palsy patients.
Check with your medical provider to determine which exercises will best fit your child’s needs and if they require any adaptive equipment.
Types of Exercise for Cerebral Palsy Children
There are several different types of exercises that children with cerebral palsy can enjoy.
These exercises include:
- Arm cycling
- Chair aerobics that combine the upper body and cardio movements
- The use of wide elastic bands for resistance training
- Leg cycling
- Stair climbing
- Weight training
- Yoga and Tai Chi
All of these exercises can help your child improve their muscle strength and flexibility, heart and lung efficiency and overall endurance. Exercises are different than sports in that while sports are generally done with others, exercises can be done alone or with a parent or caregiver.
Discuss your child’s exercise regimen with your medical provider to determine if a specific exercise will be more beneficial to their development. For example, leg cycling may help individuals with leg weakness, while chair aerobics might be a better option for a child who wants to develop their arm strength.
Once you have selected an exercise for your child to focus on, it is important to create a schedule they can be consistent with. Consistent exercise will help your child build up muscle strength and confidence over time.
Cerebral Palsy Sports
Children with cerebral palsy can play sports just like children without the condition. However, some children may require adaptive equipment to fully participate. Adapted versions of sports may include wheelchair basketball or swimming with two lanes instead of one.
Here are several sports that children with cerebral palsy can participate in with adaptive equipment or methods:
- Track-related sports
The emotional benefits of sports are well-documented. Children who play sports have greater self-confidence and find it easier to make friends. Several organizations focus on helping children with cerebral palsy participate in sports. These organizations include Cerebral Palsy Sport and the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association.
If you are interested in having your child with cerebral palsy participate in sports, contact one of these organizations or talk to your medical provider about nearby athletic opportunities.
Cerebral Palsy Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is different than both solo exercises and team sporting events. Physical therapy is a rehabilitative health discipline that helps improve and maintain optimal levels of physical movement and function of the extremities.
Physical therapy typically focuses on areas of physical limitation. For example, a child with muscle weakness in their right arm may work with a physical therapist to alleviate the symptom. This may involve doing exercises specific to that arm, or it may involve exercises where the right arm is used in conjunction with other parts of the body to improve coordination and strength.
Generally, physical therapy does the following:
- Improves strength
- Increases balance
- Improves flexibility
- Reduces muscle weakness
- Improves coordination
- Increases independence
While exercises and team sports can be done pretty much anywhere, physical therapy is generally done under the supervision of a trained and licensed physical therapist. Physical therapy can be done at the therapist’s office, school or even a recreational center. You will work with your physical therapist to determine the most optimal environment for your child’s progress and development.
Your child’s physical therapist will develop a routine unique to their specific needs and symptoms. Physical therapy is also designed to minimize pain, meaning your child will be working to improve their physical fitness in a way that does not cause any harm.
Managing Cerebral Palsy Through Exercise
Each case of cerebral palsy is unique with its own symptoms and physical limitations. Work with your medical provider to determine which exercises best fit your child’s needs. There are differences between exercises done through physical therapy and exercises done for leisure and recreation. A medical provider can help you figure out which mix best suits your child.
If your child’s case of cerebral palsy has been caused by medical malpractice, then you may be eligible for a financial settlement that can pay for your child’s physical therapy.