Rehabilitation for Cerebral Palsy in Children

Specialists at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation offer a wide range of rehabilitative treatments for children with cerebral palsy, a neuromuscular disorder that interferes with movement, muscle coordination, and gait.

Intensive rehabilitative treatments often begin during early childhood and are designed to improve muscle control, manage spasticity, and help your child develop confidence. Some children continue to work with physical and occupational therapists through adulthood.

At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, all aspects of your child’s rehabilitative care are coordinated by a physiatrist, which is a doctor who specializes in rehabilitation medicine. This centralized approach makes scheduling treatment simpler for parents, and it ensures that information about your child’s treatment is shared among experts and can be easily explained.

This approach also allows the physiatrist to monitor how each type of treatment benefits your child’s total development, and to adjust therapies as needed to optimize the results.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

One of the defining physical characteristics of cerebral palsy is spasticity, which is unusually stiff, rigid, or tight muscles. Spasticity reduces a child’s ability to control muscle movement, especially in the hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Spasticity may also cause exaggerated reflexes, making movements look erratic or jumpy.

Our physical and occupational therapists have special training to help children with cerebral palsy maximize their ability to move, walk, and participate in everyday activities.

Our physical therapists offer simple stretching and strengthening exercises to help relax tight muscles. Additional exercises to increase muscle tone may help a child with cerebral palsy achieve better control of body movements. Physical therapy is also aimed at improving balance, reinforcing posture, and reducing the risk of joint problems due to uneven gait.

Occupational therapists help children control movement and coordination in the hands, which can help with writing, eating, dressing, and other routine tasks. Therapists help children who have more severe symptoms to find creative ways to meet everyday challenges.

Braces and Assistive Devices

Our team of cerebral palsy experts includes an orthotics specialist who custom fits braces, splints, and other devices used to maintain or improve body position. These devices help to manage spasticity, keep limbs in the correct position, and prevent the unusual alignment of bones and joints from becoming permanent.

There are a variety of braces and other devices that a doctor may provide. Our rehabilitation specialists work one-on-one with children to select the most effective option and help them acclimate to it. Some devices are most helpful when used anytime a child is awake and moving. Others are specially designed to gently stretch stiff tendons while a child sleeps.

Our doctors can also provide assistive devices to enable better posture or help your child walk. For children who aren’t mobile, a customized scooter or wheelchair allows your child to move around comfortably.

Speech Therapy

Some children with cerebral palsy may have difficulty forming words and speaking clearly. This inability to communicate is often frustrating for a child. Speech–language pathologists increase a child’s oral motor skills and communication acumen by using exercises that train the brain to pronounce, understand, and interpret individual words, sounds, numbers, and gestures.

Our speech-language pathologists are experienced in working with children who have neuromuscular disorders. They can design a speech therapy plan tailored to your child’s needs.

Recreation Therapy

Our cerebral palsy team offers recreation therapy to improve the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social skills of children and young adults with the condition. This also helps children to translate the skills they learn in physical and occupational therapy into their everyday activities.

Recreation therapy allows children to combine practical skills with fun, social experiences that often take place outdoors. Our doctors may plan an outing that involves skiing or swimming, or one that helps kids prepare to participate in an organized team sport, such as wheelchair basketball.

Our specialists also use techniques such as hippotherapy, in which children ride horses. The coordinated movements that horses make while walking can help children become more comfortable with their own sense of balance and gait.

Recreation therapy fosters independence and can help children and their families feel more at ease when navigating social settings, such as restaurants or movie theaters.

Resources for Cerebral Palsy in Children
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