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15 Best Exercises for Adults with Cerebral Palsy

effective exercises for adults with cerebral palsy

Wondering what the best exercises for adults with cerebral palsy are? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

This article will share 15 effective exercises for individuals with cerebral palsy and their benefits.

Why Exercises for Adults with Cerebral Palsy Are Important

Exercise is just as important in adulthood as it is in childhood.

In fact, it might be even more critical in adulthood because people with cerebral palsy age at a quicker rate than the general population.

Why? Because motor impairments can cause the body to use up to 3 times more energy.

Exercising can increase range of motion, reduce the risk of depression, help you maintain a healthy weight, promote circulation, and keep your musculoskeletal system strong.

Before we get into the exercises, we want to remind you that every case of cerebral palsy is different and that some exercises may not be suitable for everyone.

Focus on the exercises you can do and don’t worry about the ones you can’t.

Exercises to Boost Flexibility and Increase Range of Motion

Stretching is one of the most important exercises for individuals with cerebral palsy.

It helps expand range of motion, reduce stiffness, lengthen tight muscles, and relieve pain.

1. Joint Rotations

To expand or maintain a healthy range of motion, perform rotations on all your major joints and the neck.

This includes the:

  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Ankle
  • Shoulders
  • Elbows
  • Wrists

Rotate them in one direction a few times, and then switch to the opposite direction.

This will help combat stiffness and promote circulation.

2. Calf Stretch

stretching exercises for adults with cerebral palsy

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Many individuals with cerebral palsy experience spasticity (involuntary muscle contractions) in their calves.

This can pull the heels up and result in abnormal gait patterns like toe-walking.

To lengthen tight calves, stand facing a wall and take a big step back with one leg. Adjust your legs so that the front leg is bent, and the heel of the back leg is raised.

Lean your arms against the wall for stability and gently lower the heel. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch legs.

3. Quadricep Stretch

Your quads are the muscles at the front of the thighs.

When they get tight, your knees may start to turn inwards and contribute to abnormal gait patterns.

To stretch your quads, sit on the floor with one leg bent back and the other out in front of you.

Gently lean back until you feel the strain. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch legs.

4. Hamstring Stretch

Your hamstrings are muscles at the back of the thighs.

These muscles oppose the quads, so they both need to be lengthened to allow for regular hip and knee movements.

To stretch the hamstrings, sit on the floor with both legs straightened in front of you and lean your body forward. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.

5. Shoulder Stretch

Raise one arm and bend it behind your head.

Use the hand of your other arm to gently press the elbow down until you feel the strain.

Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch arms.

6. Arm Over Chest

shoulder exercises for adults with cerebral palsy

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Swing one arm across your chest and use the other arm to hold it in place.

Gently press the arm towards your body, so it wraps across the chest more tightly.

Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides.

7. Trunk Tilts

Lay on your back and gently maneuver your upper body to the side. The legs should not move.

Hold for 20 seconds and then tilt your upper body to the opposite side. This exercise will stretch the sides of your trunk.

8. Trunk Twists

Trunk twists can be performed sitting or standing. Plant your feet on the floor and try to keep the lower body still.

Gently twist your upper body to one side, hold for 20 seconds, and then twist to the other side.

What if You Have Quadriplegia?

Quadriplegia is when motor impairments affect your entire body. It occurs more-so in the arms and legs, but it can also affect the muscles in the trunk and face.

Generally, quadriplegia is associated with more significant amounts of brain damage, which explains why more areas of the body are affected.

Individuals with quadriplegia may experience difficulties exercising due to their widespread motor impairments.

Luckily with the help of a physical therapist, nurse, or caregiver, people with quadriplegia can still practice range of motion exercises passively.

Passive range of motion exercises are when someone else moves your body for you. This allows you to reap the benefits of range of motion exercises like improved circulation without needing to exert any energy.

Exercises to Boost Cardiovascular Health

Cardio can be daunting to lots of people, especially if you have motor impairments.

However, getting your heart pumping a few times a week is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure.

9. Wheelchair Aerobics

If your cerebral palsy primarily affects your legs or even one side of your body, wheelchair aerobics can be a great way to get some cardio in.

It emphasizes lots of movement, but in a safe way where you don’t need to leave your wheelchair.

10. Dancing

Dancing is an exercise that anyone can do anywhere and anytime.

Because it’s fun and has no rules, your mind doesn’t really even register it as exercise.

For cardio, turn up some lively music. It’s proven that music influences physical changes in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and breathing.

Exercises to Strengthen Muscles

Strengthening exercises help preserve bone health, which decreases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

11. Wheelchair Pushes

For individuals who are affected by CP only in the legs, pushing your wheelchair to move around is a great arm and chest strengthening exercise.

Try to manually use your wheelchair instead of having others push it for you as much as possible. This is an easy way to incorporate strength training into your daily routine.

12. Wheelchair Push-Ups

First, make sure that your wheelchair brakes are on. Then, sit on the edge of your seat with your feet flat on the floor.

Place your hands on the armrests and press down to lift your body up. Your feet should remain on the floor and be used to support some of your weight.

13. Resistance Band Training

Resistance bands are available in many different levels of resistance and can be used for a wide variety of muscle strengthening exercises.

14. Moving with Weighted Cuffs

An easy way to build strength is to wear some weighted cuffs around your wrists or ankles and go about your everyday life.

An extra few pounds may seem like nothing, but they definitely add up over time.

15. Aquatic Exercises

Have you ever noticed how much more difficult it is to move quickly in water than it is on land?

This is because liquids have more viscosity (resistance) than gases.

The extra resistance will help strengthen the muscles.

Understanding Exercises for Adults with Cerebral Palsy

cerebral palsy exercises for adults

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The best exercises for adults with cerebral palsy are going to be different for each person.

Every case of cerebral palsy is unique, and we all have our own preferences, so an individualized approach is ideal.

Any movement is better than no movement at all, so find exercises you enjoy and want to practice long-term.

Featured image: ©iStock.com/LSOphoto

Keep It Going: See Fun Ways to Recover from Cerebral Palsy

Finally! There’s a recovery device for CP that’s actually fun to use. See how Flint Rehab’s tools are helping with CP recovery:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke. It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. It monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him. Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”

FitMi works by motivating high repetition of therapeutic exercises while playing an engaging game. This gamification has been particularly great for motivating individuals with cerebral palsy to recover.

To see how FitMi works, click here »