Cerebral Palsy Treatment Strengthens Kids

Intensive Therapy Forces Children to Use Weaker Arm

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 4, 2004 -- Kids with cerebral palsy greatly improve after undergoing an intensive training technique, research shows.

The treatment was developed for adult stroke patients who lose the use of one side of the body. Like stroke patients, kids with cerebral palsy often have paralysis or poor function on one side.

At the start of therapy, a cast is used to immobilize the child's good arm. The child then undergoes intensive training: six hours a day for 21 consecutive days.

Edward Taub, PhD, of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and colleagues tested the treatment on nine kids with cerebral palsy. Another nine kids underwent standard physical therapy. The children ranged in age from 7 months to 8 years. The findings appear in the February issue of Pediatrics.

"The intervention produced a large improvement in the use of the more-affected extremity," Taub and colleagues report. "The children exhibited [an average of] 9.3 new motor behaviors and patterns of functional behavior that had not been observed before the relatively brief three-week therapy period. [These gains] were sustained over a six-month follow-up period, with parental reports of important developmental and social-emotional benefits for the children."

Hidden behind this medical jargon are moving stories of incredible improvement among kids getting the new treatment for cerebral palsy:

  • Several of the children began crawling for the first time.
  • One child who seemed totally unaware of his weak arm began using the arm to make controlled, coordinated movements. He was able to crawl "commando" style, and to push himself up on his arms.
  • Two children began to sit independently.
  • A 4-year-old boy who had never used his weak arm began to play ball. Within six months he was able to go fishing with his father and, using a special glove, to play Little League baseball.
  • Many parents reported that their children had increased social skills.

Taub and colleagues believe the main factor behind the treatment's success is the "concentrated, extended nature of the training." They strongly suggest that health care payers support more intensive treatment for children with cerebral palsy.

SOURCE: Taub, E. Pediatrics, February 2004; vol 113: pp 305-312.