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Physical therapy is one of the most important treatments for cerebral palsy (CP). It usually begins soon after diagnosis and often continues throughout life. Some children with CP may start physical therapy before being diagnosed, depending on their symptoms.

Special devices and equipment are needed for some people with CP to help them with specific problems. For example:

  • A child who develops uneven leg length may need to wear special shoes with a higher sole and heel on the shorter leg.
  • Children who can't walk without assistance may need to use canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs.
  • Physical therapy and special equipment may be used together, such as for constraint-induced movement therapy, also called shaping. This approach encourages a child to increase movements by presenting interesting activities or objects and giving praise and rewards when a child makes attempts to use the less-functioning muscles.5

Occupational therapy helps teens and adults adapt to their limitations and live as independently as possible.

Speech therapy helps control the mouth muscles. This therapy can be of great benefit to children with speech or eating problems. Speech therapy often starts before the child begins school and continues throughout the school years.

Nutritional counseling may help when dietary needs are not met because of problems with eating certain foods.

Biofeedback may be useful as part of physical therapy or on its own. During a biofeedback session, people with CP learn how to control their affected muscles. Some people learn ways to reduce muscle tension with this technique. Biofeedback does not help everyone with CP.

Both massage therapy and hatha yoga are designed to help relax tense muscles, strengthen muscles, and keep joints flexible. Hatha yoga breathing exercises are sometimes used to try to prevent lung infections. More research is needed to determine the health benefits of these therapies for people with CP.

Other treatments that vary by age or specific need include:

  • Therapies to stimulate learning and sensory development. Babies and young children may benefit from these stimulation or neurodevelopmental therapies. Some of these therapies also help people of other ages. These therapies cannot repair damaged parts of the brain. But they may be able to stimulate undamaged parts of the brain that the person is not currently using.
  • Behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps some school-age children with CP learn ways to communicate with others.

Several controversial therapies exist for CP, such as electrical stimulation and special diets. If you are considering these types of treatments, talk to your doctor about any related research or where to find more information.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 30, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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