Spastic Cerebral Palsy inhibits the motor function of the patient, which means they will have stiff, jerky movements, and painful muscle contractures. Fortunately, there are several exercises the patient can perform to improve muscle flexibility and range of motion. This article is a quick introduction to what Spastic Cerebral Palsy is and some of the exercises that therapists recommend for it.
Understanding Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic Cerebral Palsy is a subtype of Cerebral Palsy, which is a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, coordination, and motor skills, caused by damage or abnormalities in the developing brain. It typically occurs due to injury or infection before, during, or shortly after birth. Spasticity refers to abnormal muscle tightness, which occurs because the damaged part of the brain cannot send messages correctly to the muscles. As a result, the patient’s movements become stiff and jerky and they cannot perform tasks properly. About 77% of all Cerebral Palsy diagnoses are Spastic Cerebral Palsy.
Symptoms of Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic Cerebral Palsy can affect any number of limbs and may range from mild to severe. The early symptoms can be hard to spot, especially in infancy. Typically, parents will notice the symptoms when the child starts missing developmental milestones. Some of the signs to watch out for include:
- Inability to lift head as a baby
- Difficulty standing and walking
- Difficulty changing one’s position in bed
- Difficulty standing up after sitting and vice versa
- Inability to fully extend joints
- Abnormal reflexes
- Difficulty with fine motor skills such as buttoning a shirt
- Scissoring thighs
- Abnormal posture and gait
- Slurred speech
- Hoarse voice
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
Exercises for Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic muscles can lead to complications over time, such as muscle degeneration or bone deformities. Commencing treatment early on, therefore, is crucial. There are a number of exercises that focus on stretching and flexibility so that the patient’s range of motion can improve. Some of these include:
- Calf stretches: Place your hands on a wall and take a long step back so that you are standing with the front knee bent and the back leg stretched out with the heel raised. Slowly lower the heel and hold for 20-30 seconds before repeating with the other leg.
- Joint rotations: Rotate your ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, wrist, and elbow joints in circular motions, in both directions.
- Hamstring stretch: Sit on the floor with both legs straight in front of you and lean your body forward. Keep leaning forward up until you feel any discomfort and then hold for about 30 seconds.
- Arm over chest: Stretch one arm across your body and use the other arm to press it against the chest and hold it in place for about 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
- Shoulder stretch: Raise an arm and bend it behind your head while using the other hand to press against your elbow until you can feel the stretch. Hold it for 20-30 seconds.
- Trunk tilts: Lie on your back and rotate your upper body to one side without moving your lower body. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then get back to neutral position. Repeat on the other side.
- Trunk twists: Rotate your upper body to one side while in a sitting or standing position, and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Your feet should be flat on the floor throughout.
In addition, therapists recommend the following for Spastic Cerebral Palsy patients.
- Cardiovascular exercises to maintain heart and respiratory health and improve general fitness
- Strength training to build muscle and improve overall strength
- Occupational Therapy to learn how to perform daily tasks like eating or getting dressed with appropriate modifications, such as assistive devices
Every case of Spastic Cerebral Palsy is unique, and your therapist will work with you to choose the exercises most suited to your needs and abilities. What is certain, however, is that a regular exercise and fitness regime will help ease spastic muscles and improve gross and fine motor skills while reducing pain levels. The sooner a patient gets a diagnosis and starts treatment, the sooner they can benefit, and the more enjoyable their lives will be.