Physical therapy is an essential part of a cerebral palsy treatment, as it is focused on helping patients restore mobility and function to areas of their body damaged by this debilitating neurological disease. Potentially devastating on a physical, mental and psychological level, cerebral palsy is marked by a form of brain damage - generally to the cerebellum - that impairs speech, cognition, coordination and mobility. For the best chances at achieving the highest quality of life, specialists have said it is essential for cerebral palsy patients to start physical therapy treatments (as part of a comprehensive treatment regimen) very soon after a diagnosis.
Cerebral Palsy - Physical Therapy Evaluation
Like other aspects of cerebral palsy treatments, physical therapy sessions are tailored to an individual patient's conditions and needs. In the U.S., physical therapists are licensed health care professionals who have earned, at the very least, a master's degree and who have completed the necessary training and earned the required accreditations.
To develop an effective, unique program, physical therapists will thoroughly examine a patient's physical impairments to pinpoint his or her limitations, weaknesses and strengths. Subsequently, physical therapists will develop an extensive program that may include:
- exercising and stretching
- use of heat, cold and/or electrical currents to certain areas of the body
- use of specialized equipment, such as walking frames, elastic bands and braces
The length and frequency of a patient's session, as well as the elements involved, will depend on the nature and severity of the cerebral palsy, as well as the patient's age, medical history, and other factors.
Goals of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is usually used to help with:
- controlling tremors and involuntary movements
- evening out muscle tone
- helping patients learn how to walk properly
- improving dexterity so patients can write
- improving coordination and balance
- overcoming paralysis
- helping patients become more independent so they can enjoy the best possible quality of life
In an effort to achieve optimal results, physical therapy is often paired with many other forms of treatment; these may include:
- medications to control seizures, tremors and involuntary movements
- occupational therapy to teach CP patients how to perform everyday tasks, such as self-feeding and getting dressed
- speech and language therapy to improve verbal communication
- sensory integration therapy to improve patients' ability to perceive, interpret and respond to their surroundings
- hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to improve behavioral issues associated with CP (Typically used in the treatment of the "bends," HBOT occurs when patients inhale in 100 percent oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure. This form of CP therapy is controversial, and research has yet to confirm its effectiveness)