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New Physical Therapy Method for Cerebral Palsy

Researchers from Louisiana State University’s Health Science Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital were given a five-year federal grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study whether or not muscle power training exercises can improve the walking abilities of children with cerebral palsy (CP).

Is this exciting? It really is.  Anything that can advance the ball for people with cerebral palsy is wildly exciting.

How will this study be conducted?

MRI-full-body12-10-09-93x300According to Dr. Noelle Moreau, a lead researcher at LSU, therapists in each city will train 24 children between the ages of 10 and 17 who can already walk. The researchers will randomly assign participants to two different training methods. The first method consists of power training combined with interval treadmill training. This method is known as PT3. The second method consists of traditional strength training combined with traditional treadmill training sessions. Each participant will train three times a week, over an eight-week span. Researchers hope to compare and contrast the effectiveness of PT3 to traditional training methods.

Dr. Moreau hopes to address “the specific underlying muscular mechanisms responsible for walking limitations in this group.” She intends to incorporate “task-specific training of walking” and focus on “developmentally appropriate pediatric walking activity pattern, rather than adult patterns, that require muscle power to be generated through high-speed intervals.”

What is PT3 and how does it compare to traditional physical therapy methods?

PT3 is a novel form of physical therapy that combines power training with interval treadmill training. Each session would last for a half hour. They consist of thirty minutes of power training and thirty minutes of interval treadmill training. Power training consists of unilateral and bilateral leg presses that target quadriceps, hip extensors, and plantar flexors. The minute interval treadmill training portion includes 30-second bursts of high speed walking intervals that alternate with 30 seconds of low speed walking for 30 seconds.

Regarding muscle training, PT3 differentiates itself from traditional physical therapy for children with CP by focusing on muscle power rather than muscle strength. Muscle power is the ability of a muscle to carry weight with speed. Muscle strength is the ability of the muscle to handle as much weight as it can with little resistance. With respect to treadmill training, PT3 differentiates itself by focusing on mixing up walking speed as opposed to keeping a steady speed.

What has previous research said about this topic?

A study conducted by Dutch researchers had children with CP undergo power training programs to improve their walking abilities and participation in daily living activities. The participants were 22 children who had spastic CP. These children were recruited from a rehabilitation center, two schools for children with physical disabilities, and a university medical center outpatient clinic.

The children underwent power training exercises over a 14-week span, three times a week. Each session lasted 60 minutes. Training initially started out with a warm-up, which lasted about 10 minutes. Next, would be three to four different power exercises, which would last for about 35 minutes. Power exercises included running, walking, pushing a chair, climbing stairs, and propelling a scooter. Their study was relatively successful as 86% of children had achieved or exceeded their individual goals regarding physical activity and participation level.

The researchers concluded that functional power-training improves the mobility of children with CP. Parents had set goals for their children such as having their children be able to join non-CP children in the playground. The researchers have noted that parents have reported that the functional power-exercises have been successful in meeting these goals.

There are many false hopes in the fight to improve the plight of CP victims.  But we have to keep trying everything we possibly can.  This latest PT technique looks very promising.