What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability found in children. The disability originates in a fetus when there is abnormal brain development or when a brain injury damages the motor cortex before, during, or soon after birth. Although the effects of cerebral palsy are non-progressive, the damage is irreversible. Cerebral palsy affects an individual’s motor skills, including the ability to coordinate movement, walk, and balance. The muscles are also affected and are often weak and spastic. There are different categorizations of the disability, depending on the location of the affected or paralyzed body parts.

●Quadriplegia -Both arms and legs are affected

●Diplegia -Both legs are affected

●Hemiplegia -One side of the body (right or left) is affected

Individuals with cerebral palsy often utilize mobility aids such as forearm crutches or wheelchairs, depending on whether they are quadriplegic, diplegic, or hemiplegic.

Importance of Training for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy

While the damage to the motor cortex in individuals with cerebral palsy is irreversible, regular exercise can be extremely beneficial in improving muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and mobility.

These improvements in fitness have many benefits:

  • Improved walking gait
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved coordination and limited fall risk
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults, including those with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, should accumulate at least 150 minutes of cardiorespiratory exercise each week and two days of strength training each week. Cardiorespiratory exercise is shown to reduce spasticity in individuals with cerebral palsy, which results in improved walking gait. Cerebral palsy causes muscle weakness, which creates many limitations in daily activities. Long term strength training programs have been found to increase the quality of life for individuals with cerebral palsy. Due to the effects that the disability has on mobility and motor skills, training programs look different for each individual with cerebral palsy.

Training Methods and Techniques

Modifications can be made to cardiorespiratory exercises to be accessible for individuals with cerebral palsy. Stationary bikes can be utilized by those with ample lower body mobility, and straps can be used to secure the feet to the pedals. If individuals are unable to use their legs to perform exercise, upper extremity ergometers (arm bikes) can be used instead. Other cardio exercises such as swimming, walking, and wheelchair racing can be performed, depending on the individual’s abilities.

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During strength training sessions, individuals with cerebral palsy should primarily focus on increasing lower body strength and shoulder strength to help with performance of daily activities. Resistance bands and ankle and wrist weights are especially useful for individuals with cerebral palsy because it is relatively easy to transition between exercises safely with these materials.

It is important to individualize training programs for each unique case of cerebral palsy, depending on his or her muscle tone, levels of fatigue, susceptibility to injury, and preferences. Be sure to always receive medical clearance from a licensed professional before starting a workout program.

The Adaptive Fitness coaches at USF RecWell are certified and skilled to create a safe and effective individualized training experience for clients with cerebral palsy.


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