Cerebral Palsy Research Network Blog

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Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – older children, adolescents, and adults – part 4

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series. You can ask questions of the author on the MyCP Forum].

In the last post I included links to the guides Fit for Life, Fit for Sport, and exercise and physical activity tips for the younger child. This post will address exercise and physical activity tips for the older child, adolescent, and adult. I wrote them with therapists at Gillette.

  • For all types of exercise, a referral to either a PT or OT is recommended, even for just one or two sessions. There are also wonderful athletic trainers who have advanced training in working with people with physical limitations. Trainers who lack this specialized training, however, may advise overexercising, which can lead to injuries. Consider calling the fitness centers or gyms in your area to check if any of their staff have training in adapting exercise programs for people with physical challenges.
  • If you’re working with weights, consider getting expert guidance on how much weight is safe to work with and how many repetitions to perform.
  • Fast walking can achieve many of the same benefits as running and may be safer for some people.
  • You have many options when it comes to cycling, including outdoor and indoor (static) bikes. Three-wheeled bikes may be ideal for those with balance issues. You can purchase blocks (trainers) to convert an outdoor bike to an indoor bike when the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor mobility.
  • A therapist can offer guidance on the appropriate size and type of sports wheelchair to use and can check to see if you are eligible for any funding aid to purchase one.
  • A few tips for swimming:
    • Consider scheduling a few sessions with a pool PT or OT to develop an appropriate swimming program.
    • If you use a wheelchair, call around to find a pool with PVC pool chairs and a ramp.
    • A pool temperature of 88–94 degrees Fahrenheit can be very therapeutic and can help reduce pain and stiffness.
    • Nonskid pool shoes are recommended for walking from the changing room to the pool and back to avoid falls on wet pool decks.
    • Swim paddles, kickboards, flippers, etc. can be used to increase resistance for muscle strengthening.
  • You can find many excellent videos online to guide you through adaptive yoga, tai chi, and other such programs. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has some.
  • Incorporate as much exercise as you can into the normal day (for example, cycling to school, after-school activities, or work).
  • Most school programs include at least a weekly session of physical education. Try to ensure that the program includes the child or adolescent’s needs as much as possible so that they can participate in the sport, even if this means adapting the rules, the equipment, or the mindset of the teacher or coach. Forcing the child or adolescent to sit out their school physical education period is a missed opportunity both in terms of the benefits of exercise and the camaraderie and social experience of teamwork. Research has shown that school-based exercise programs are beneficial for children and adolescents with CP.

I’m very respectful of the fact that the people who live with physical disability will have other tips. Your comments are very welcome over at MyCP.

Webinar: Body Composition and Strength in Cerebral Palsy

Ed Hurvitz, MD, Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Michigan

Ed Hurvitz, MD, Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Michigan

The Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN) announced that its next webinar in its MyCP webinar series would be about importance of body composition and strength in cerebral palsy (CP) on Monday, December 7, at 8 pm ET. Dr. Edward Hurvitz, Chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan will discuss his research into new measurements of strength for people with CP and role that strength plays in long term health. Dr. Hurvitz, also a member of the CPRN Executive Committee, will present for approximately 20 minutes and be available for Q&A after the presentation. Dr. Hurvitz’s research was recently funded by the Foundation for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Gabriella Molnar grant. This study is important because it may enable new standardized ways to measure strength in the CP population that can be easily added to routine care.

Interested participants need to register for the webinar to be sent instructions for joining. Webinars will be recorded and posted for later viewing. The MyCP Webinar series includes one presentation per month on different aspects of CPRN’s research studies. Please join us!

Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – younger children — part 3

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series. You can ask questions of the author on the MyCP Forum].

In the last post I wrote about Verschuren and colleagues (2016) recommendations for exercise and physical activity for people with cerebral palsy (CP). For older children, adolescents, and adults with CP, the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport at Loughborough University in the UK has published two excellent guides. The first, Fit for Life, is for people with CP who are new to exercise. The second, Fit for Sport, is for people who want to take their exercise to a more advanced level. These are excellent resources that I would strongly encourage readers to check out.

Other useful online resources include:
➡ American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM) We Can All PLAY: Participation in Adapted Sports and Recreation for Children and Youth with Disabilities.
➡ American College of Sports Medicine Health-Related Fitness for Children and Adults with CP.
➡ The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is a public health practice and resource center for people with disabilities. It has a selection of informative videos.

The following are some tips on exercise and physical activity for the younger child, and the next post will address the older child, adolescent, and adult. The tips were gleaned from my own experience, but with additional pointers from therapists at Gillette Children’s Speciality Healthcare. Your PT or OT can help you develop a targeted and safe exercise program. They will also be able to offer advice on which types of exercise are best for joint preservation. There’s a balance to be struck between preserving joints and playing sports you most enjoy. For example, if playing soccer with friends is what you most enjoy, it is a good sport for you. Swimming is a particularly good sport because of its low impact on the joints.

Exercise and physical activity tips for the younger child
➡ The typically developing toddler gets their muscle stretching and strengthening exercises through everyday movement: running, climbing, jumping, etc. Since the goal in spastic diplegia is to follow normal development as much as possible (to get normal forces acting on the bones), we need to ensure the young child with spastic diplegia gets their required amount of exercise and physical activity. Movement is essential for the child with spastic diplegia, including moving joints through the entire range of motion (ROM) of which they are capable.
➡ Incorporating muscle stretching and strengthening into play and other activities the child really enjoys is enormously helpful. For the young child, learning to play and learning through play are very important. Incorporating exercise and stretching into the normal day as much as possible—for example, encouraging the child to use a tricycle to travel short distances—also helps.
➡ Playgrounds (both outdoor and indoor) are great places for all children to play, but they are especially important for the child with spastic diplegia. Here the child has the opportunity to move in a variety of ways. Playgrounds are also great because they are normal family settings. Parents of children with limited mobility tend not to bring their children to venues that require lots of movement as often, but in fact the child with spastic diplegia needs such opportunities to move and play even more than the typically developing child. Safety must be a concern, of course, but we cannot be so overzealous about safety that our child misses out on great opportunities for movement.
➡ Swimming is also great for the young child with spastic diplegia.
➡ Parents may be reluctant to use adaptive equipment (such as a recumbent bicycle) because they worry it will make the child stand out more. I would advise parents to weigh the perceived costs against the benefits for the child. (I’m not talking about financial costs.) I have also found that children can be very accepting of others; often the prejudice lies with us adults, not with our children.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate this great holiday.