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Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

Physical therapy (PT) is an important part of managing cerebral palsy (CP). It usually starts soon after diagnosis. It may begin earlier, depending on the symptoms. Some people with CP continue physical therapy throughout their lives, especially those with severe physical disabilities.

The goals of physical therapy are to:

  • Foster independence by improving functional mobility.
  • Strengthen and encourage the growth of muscles.
  • Improve the ability to move all parts of the body.
  • Prevent joints from becoming tight or permanently bent (contracted).

As part of a child's physical therapy, parents may be taught ways to keep their child's muscles strong and joints flexible. Physical therapists may work with parents on the following simple approaches:

  • Exercise the child's limbs through interactive play.
  • Set aside times for active physical play with other members of the family.
  • Encourage young children to move and play, such as by banging pots together and slapping their hands on the table.
  • Encourage the child to play with others who are the same age.

Physical therapy also may include the use of:

  • Special positions, exercises, and cushions to help keep a child in a more natural position.
  • Braces, casts, and splints to help straighten and support the child's joints. These devices also may help manage uncontrolled limb movements.
  • Scooters, wheelchairs, and other devices for increased mobility.
  • A special plastic jacket that is individually molded to prevent the spine from curving more. Curves in the spine (scoliosis) sometimes develop in teens with cerebral palsy.
  • Equipment for constraint-induced movement therapy, also called shaping. This approach encourages a child to increase movements through presenting interesting activities or objects and giving praise and rewards when a child makes attempts to use the less-functioning muscles.
By Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised September 20, 2012

Last Revised: September 20, 2012

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