The best stretches for cerebral palsy patients will focus on lengthening spastic muscles.
Children with cerebral palsy may not like stretching because they feel like they’re constantly forced to do it.
It’s important to get your child to understand the benefits of stretching in order to motivate them and minimize their resistance.
This article will explain how stretching can help with spasticity management and share some stretches that people with mild cerebral palsy can practice.
Why Stretching is Necessary for People with Cerebral Palsy
Over 80% of people with cerebral palsy will experience spasticity, which is the continuous contracting of muscles.
When muscles stay contracted, they’re constantly pulling on the joints which limits range of motion.
Children are continuously growing, and unmanaged spasticity can cause abnormal posture, stiff movements, and inhibit muscle growth.
Stretching can help elongate tight muscles and connective tissues to relieve the joints and improve movement fluidity.
Many people will wait until their spasticity starts bothering them before stretching.
However, the longer you wait, the more severe muscle contractions can get and the more difficult they’ll be to relax.
More severe forms of cerebral palsy may need to utilize muscle relaxants like Botox or baclofen to reduce spasticity enough to stretch muscles out.
Goals of stretching include:
- Stabilizing muscle tone
- Maintaining or increasing flexibility
- Reducing pain
- Deferring surgery
- Increasing joint range of motion
Stretches for Cerebral Palsy
Spasticity is often made worse when one quickly stretches or moves, so don’t rush into any of the stretches.
Hold these stretches for at least 30 seconds and then switch sides. Generally, the longer you hold a stretch, the longer its effects will last.
The effects of stretching are gradual as long as you’re consistent and stretch on a regular basis.
Let’s get into the stretches!
1. Hamstring Stretch
Sit on the floor with one leg straight and one leg bent so that the bottom of your foot is against the side of your straightened leg.
Slowly lean forward towards the foot of your straightened leg and hold.
2. Heel Cord Wall Stretch
Stand facing a wall and place both hands on the wall shoulder-level and shoulder-width apart.
Take a large step back with one leg so that you’re on your toes.
Slowly, press your heel down (the front leg should bend as you go down) and hold.
3. Seated Heel Cord Stretch
For the following stretch, you’ll need a belt or resistance band.
Sit on the ground with one leg straight and the other bent.
Place the bottom of your foot (of the straightened leg) on the center of the belt and hold both ends.
Gently pull the ends toward you and hold.
4. Quadriceps Stretch
Sit with one leg straightened in front of you and the other bent back.
Slowly lean back, using your forearms for support and hold.
5. Knee to Chest Stretch
Lay flat on your back with one leg straight and the other bent.
Lift the bent leg, pull the knee up towards the chest, and hold.
6. Wrist Stretch
Raise one arm out in front of you with your palm facing down.
Use your other hand to gently pull the palm up and in towards the body, so that the wrist bends back.
Then, pull the palm down, so that the wrist bends forward.
7. Shoulder Stretch
Open one arm out against a wall and slowly twist the rest of your body in the opposite direction.
For example, if your right arm is against the wall, twist your body to the left.
Is Stretching Enough for Long-term Results?
The effects of stretching alone may not be effective for long-term spasticity relief.
People with mild cerebral palsy need to stretch at least daily. If you stop stretching, the muscles may tighten more than usual, resulting in stiffer movements.
The more severe your spasticity, the longer you will need to stretch to extend its effects.
Braces, splints, and other orthotics are designed to hold the body in a certain position. They help combat spastic muscles by promoting proper form and prolonged passive stretching.
The same idea goes for serial casting, which can be helpful for those with already contracted muscles.
With serial casting, the cast is worn for up to a week for continuous stretching. Every week (for up to 12 weeks), the cast is replaced to build off the lengthening outcomes of the previous cast.
Our muscles are visco-elastic, meaning that when you hold a stretch for a long time, eventually the amount of tension for that given length is going to decrease, and the easier it will be to maintain the position.
Therefore, the next time you stretch (if you stretch regularly), you should be able to lengthen the muscle more than before for the same amount of tension.
Individuals with cerebral palsy should stretch before bracing or serial casting to optimize form. If you put on orthotics without stretching, they may not fit correctly or can be more painful during wear.
Cerebral Palsy and Stretching
Lengthening your muscles requires consistency and frequency.
Stretching won’t get rid of spasticity, but it will help limit its effects.
As a preventative measure, individuals with mild cerebral palsy should stretch even when their spasticity isn’t bothering them.
It will help ensure that they have full range of motion and adequate flexibility for smooth movements.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand why it’s so important for people with cerebral palsy to incorporate stretching into their daily schedules. Good luck!