According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability among children. The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM) estimates that about one in every 345 children is diagnosed with CP which makes cerebral palsy exercises very important to help support their motor skills and balance.
Cerebral Palsy Exercises: how badly needed are they?
Cerebral palsy is more common than you might think.
In fact, people with CP suffer from motor disability which affects their ability to maintain posture, balance and even their ability to move.
The CDC notes that about 75% to 85% of children suffer from spastic cerebral palsy where a person’s muscles become stiff resulting to awkward movements.
On the other hand, about 50% to 60% of children with CP can still walk independently.
So, is it alright for people – even children – with CP to exercise and get fit physically?
The answer: Yes!
In fact, the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM) emphasizes that exercises has several benefits to people with CP especially in terms of improving their mobility and balance.
By doing cerebral palsy exercises, people with CP can:
- maintain a healthy weight,
- reduce their risk of depression,
- improve their functional capacity by improving their body’s range of motion
- strengthen their muscles
- lower risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, hypertension or stroke
- lower risk of fall-related injuries due to weak muscles
Since CP is more common than you may think initially, it’s important that you also know the different classifications of cerebral palsy. By doing this, you will be able to determine the best set of exercises for your child, family member or friend who suffers from CP.
Different classifications of cerebral palsy
There are four major classifications of CP determined by CDC according to the type of movement disorder involved:
- Spastic which involves muscle stiffness
- Dyskinesia which involves the uncontrollable movements of the muscles
- Ataxia which affects one’s balance and coordination
- Or mixed CP which can be a mix of one or two of the earlier types.
Read on to learn more about the different kinds of CP.
This is the most common type of CP that affects 75%-85% of children and about 80% of adults.
Individuals who suffer from spastic CP usually have increased muscle tone. However, this increase makes their muscle stiff which results to awkward movements.
Most common symptoms:
- Abnormality in walking
- Awkward movements or reflexes
- Stiff body
- Tight muscles or joints
Spastic CP can be are broken into three more categories:
- Diplegia/diparesis – muscle stiffness mostly in the leg which causes someone’s legs to cross at the knees, more commonly known as scissoring, turn inward, or pull together. This type of spastic CP makes walking difficult. People with this kind of spastic CP may also suffer from mild movement issues in their arms.
- Hemiplegia/hemiparesis – muscle stiffness in just one side of a person’s body. Unlike diplegia/diparesis, this type of spastic CP affects mostly the arm muscles.
- Quadriplegia/quadriparesis – a severe form of spastic CP that affects not only the limbs but even the face and torso of the person. People with this kind of spastic CP usually cannot walk and also suffer from seizures and other disabilities.
Other types of movements you need to be aware of:
- Monoplegia – a rare type of CP movement that only affects one arm or one leg.
- Triplegia – this can happen when three of the body’s limbs are affected. Both legs and one arm or both arms and a leg moves uncontrollably.
- Double hemiplegia – all four limbs of the body are affected, but one side is more affected than the other.
This is the second most common type of cerebral palsy where people have no control of their muscle movement. This type of CP can result to uncontrollable movements of the arms, legs, hands and feet which make it difficult to walk, or even sit. It can also result to rapid, jerky or writhing movements. Sometimes, dyskinetic CP also affects the tongue making it hard to talk or swallow.
Most common symptoms:
- Posture problems
- Feeding problems
- Limbs feel floppy
People suffering from this kind of CP usually have problems with balance. Their body’s coordination are also affected making it hard for them to walk or do quick movements. For people with ataxic CP, movements that need a lot of muscle control like can be difficult. Hence, simple tasks like writing or reaching for something are something that they cannot do on their own.
Most common symptoms:
- Difficulty in speech
- Poor coordination
- Problems with depth perception
Mixed cerebral palsy
Some people suffer from more than just one type of CP. That’s when you call it a mixed CP. The most common type of mixed CP among adults and children is the spastic-dyskinetic CP. It happens when people suffer from both stiff muscles and uncontrollable muscle movements.
Since CP mostly affects motor skills, balance and coordination, it’s important to note the type of CP that affects an adult or children to determine the right kind of cerebral palsy exercises for them.
Cerebral palsy and physical exercise
A common misconception among people is that children or people with disabilities can’t get fit because they can’t participate in physical activities. While it’s true that people with disabilities have a limitation when it comes to their physical strength and abilities, they also need exercise to stay strong and healthy.
In fact, studies have shown that physical exercises are beneficial to people with CP.
Because adults and children with CP have reduced muscle strength, they’re less likely to participate or perform physical activities that would help build their cardiorespiratory endurance. This limitation puts their health at risk since muscle weakness and poor cardiovascular health can result in negative and premature health problems like obesity and hypertension.
Other health conditions like asthma, joint pain and even stroke can happen due to inactivity among people with CP. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) also noted that exercise reduces secondary conditions in children with cerebral palsy including the early onset of osteoporosis, fatigue or chronic pain due to low or minimal physical activity.
Therefore, people suffering from CP are highly recommended to engage in cerebral palsy exercises.
How do you start physical exercise for CP?
The AACPDM has several exercises and activities suggested for people with CP who wants to start getting fit.
For those with muscle problems in their legs, gym equipment that uses the arms are recommended. People with CP should also try exercises that promote cardiovascular endurance. To build and develop muscle strength, you can also start with using exercise bands with varying degrees of elasticity and resistance. Water exercises like swimming are also ideal.
On the other hand, finding the right place to get your child with CP fit may not be easy.
The good news is that Special Strong specializes in training people and children with disability, including those with CP. You can get you 7-Day Free Pass here and get your child or loved one started on getting better physically.
Cerebral Palsy Balance Exercise
Below are some exercises you can do to help your child or any of your loved ones build better balance.
Sit and balance
This type of balance exercise for cerebral palsy is very simple. All you have to do is let your child sit astride a long bench or a roll. Make sure that your child’s feet are flat on the floor. If they are able to sit up on their own, allow them to reach and touch the floor with their fingers. If they are not able to hold themselves up, try supporting them by holding their hips and let them do the same activity.
To progress with this balance exercise, you can raise the level of the bench as long as their feet still touch the floor.
To add more challenge, you can ask them to reach for a toy or an object but that their feet should still remain on the floor.
Single Leg Balance
Let your child or loved one stand with their feet shoulder-width apart. Let them put their hands in front of their chest in a praying position. Afterwards, allow them to carefully lift one knee until it’s aligned with their hip. Let them hold the position for at least 15 seconds. Alternate the process with their other leg this time.
Use a BOSU Ball
A BOSU ball is a piece of low-impact gym equipment that you can use to perform balance exercises for cerebral palsy. Because of the decreased level of force that BOSU balls offer, you can incorporate it in almost every balance exercise you can think of.
Some of the balance training you can do is the BOSU ball squat where you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart on the BOSU ball. Afterwards, just encourage your child or loved one to keep himself or herself balanced as she squats to the level of a chair and comes back up to a standing position.
Core Exercises for Cerebral Palsy
Core exercises are meant to help your child or loved one with CP walk and master fine and gross motor skills better.
In a 2018 study, core training and exercises have been proven to improve walking ability among children with CP. This is because this type of exercise targets the lateral trunk and pelvic muscles, which are both necessary for walking and stabilizing the body as it moves.
Here are some simple core exercises you can do with cerebral palsy.
Let your child/loved one roll over by bending their legs first. Afterwards, let their bodies follow the movement of their legs so they get as much rotation as possible in their trunk.
The simple act of crawling allows your child to use almost all of his or her muscles to stay balanced.
But instead of moving both legs at the same time, encourage your child or loved one to move one leg after the other.
You can increase the challenge of this simple core exercise by having them crawl over objects.
For this simple exercise, let your child lie on their back and lift their legs to their chest. Support them if needed to be able to do this activity. Let them hold on to their knees with their arms and see if they can lift their heads off the floor while holding the position.
To progress with this activity, let your child or loved one hold the position for 10 seconds. If they can do it, increase the time to 20 seconds.
Let your child lie down on their stomach their arms and legs extended on the ground. Allow them to raise their arms and feet off the floor while keeping their stomachs flat on the ground. Let them hold the position for three (3) seconds before lowering their arms and legs on the floor.
Let your child or loved one assume a push-up position. Make sure that their arms and legs are fully extended with their palms and toes touching the floor. Let them hold the position for as long as they can.
Strengthening Exercises for Cerebral Palsy
Here are some of the strengthening exercises you can try for CP:
Start with your feet close together and hold on to the TRX strap. A TRX strap is a kind of suspension trainer that helps strengthen the body, including the core. Step forward with one leg and lower your hips until both knees are at a 90-degree angle. Repeat the process and alternate sides.
Stand flat against a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly slide your back down the wall and bend your knees in a squat position with a 90-degree angle. Hold the position for at least 10 seconds or longer if they can.
Free weight training
Alternately, you can perform strength training exercises for people with CP by adding weights into their exercise routines. For children or people with weaker muscles, single weights and single-joint resistance training would be more effective. Some examples of free-weight exercises are adding weights while doing lunges, squats, or simply walking like the Farmer’s Walk exercise.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold weights at the outside of your hips. Stand tall and take small steps forward while holding the weights. You can gradually increase the weight and walk slower to build strength as you do this exercise. However, if your child finds it hard to lift the weights, you can lessen the amount of weight and let them walk faster.
Want some more? Check out these strengthening exercises from Special Strong.
In a nutshell, here are some exercise routines or tools that you can use for people with cerebral palsy
Water exercise like swimming or simply walking in the pool
Stationary or regular bike
How much physical exercise is enough for people with cerebral palsy?
Children must have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day according to CDC. However, the length of time that your child can perform physical activities highly depends on their kind of CP and whether they are used to doing physical activities. It is best to talk to trained professionals when it comes to the exercise routines of your child or loved one.
Professional fitness trainers like those at Special Strong can assess and provide exercise programs for children and people with cerebral palsy and assess their fitness levels as beginners, intermediate or advanced.
Important things to note with a physical fitness program for cerebral palsy
As a parent or guardian, you must understand that there is no one-size-fits-all fitness program for people or children with disabilities. Every child is special. Every person is unique. Disability or not, your child’s fitness needs will greatly depend on their capability.
Nonetheless, helping your child get active early on has lifelong benefits to help them live a healthier and active life.
Here are a few important things should know before engaging in a fitness program:
Consult with your doctor or a special needs trainer
Your child’s health is first and foremost your main concern. Make sure that you discuss your fitness plan with your doctor or physical therapist to ensure that you do not overwork your child.
On the other hand, you can ask trained and professional special needs trainers for their recommendation on the kind of exercise program that would best benefit your child.
Find a conducive environment for your fitness goals
Your child may be too familiar at home to stick to a fitness routine. Another thing is you don’t have the necessary equipment at home to do the recommended exercises for CP. If this is the case, you can find gyms like Special Strong that specialize in training people with disabilities.
Be patient if you or your loved one are just starting with your fitness goals. Progress can take time. Even the first few exercise sessions can be tough, especially if you’ve been inactive for some time.
It’s okay to start slow as long as you keep on progressing with your exercise routines over time. Starting slow also helps you prevent any injuries and exhaustion from overdoing your exercises.
Stick to your goals
Exercising with cerebral palsy is not something that you do for a season. You need to make a habit of being active for a long time. Set realistic fitness goals for your child’s CP and make sure that you stick to it. Keep working on every routine even when some days look boring. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up! You may not see it now, but your efforts will pay off in the long run.
Start your cerebral palsy exercise training with Special Strong
While you can do cerebral palsy exercises at home with your loved ones, it’s still important to have the guidance of professionals when you do your exercises.
Some cases of CP need special care and attention. Having trained fitness professionals for children and adults with disabilities are the best kind of people to achieve the level of fitness that you might want to have for your child or loved one.
Try our 7-day free pass at Special Strong and let your child or loved one experience a personalized training routine that is tailored to fit their needs.
Check it out: Fitness Training Plan You Can Try At Home or at the Gym