Wondering what the best core exercises for cerebral palsy patients are?
Cerebral palsy describes a whole spectrum of different motor impairments and severity levels.
No two children are going to experience cerebral palsy the same way.
Some may be affected in the legs, some may be affected on one side, and some may be affected throughout their entire bodies.
We’ve put together a list of core exercises for cerebral palsy patients, as well as suggestions to make the exercises easier or more challenging.
Core Exercises for Cerebral Palsy
A strong core is essential for balance, posture, and overall health because it’s what connects the upper and lower body.
This randomized controlled trial found that core stability exercises were able to significantly improve trunk endurance and gait in children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy.
Without further ado, let’s get into the core exercises!
1. Deep Breathing
Most people associate the diaphragm with respiratory function, but did you know that it also plays an important role in core stability?
Take a few deep breaths in and out. Did you notice how your core gets sucked inwards and outwards?
The diaphragm is responsible for pressure changes in the trunk that provide better posture, balance, and spine mobility.
Remind your child to focus on their breathing while performing any of these exercises.
2. Trunk Twists
Trunk twists will help train the sides of the core.
There are multiple ways to perform trunks twists depending on what parts of the body are affected by cerebral palsy.
One way is to have your child lay flat on their back with their knees bent. Make sure that their shoulders stay flat and then tilt the knees to one side, hold, and then repeat to the other side.
This is a passive form of exercise, meaning that your child does not need to actively exert any energy because you ‘re moving their body for them.
Passive range of motion exercises will be best for children with quadriplegic cerebral palsy that affects their entire body.
Next, let’s go over a version of the trunk twist that requires more active participation from your child.
Have your child sit in a chair. Hold your child’s knees together and then have your child twist their upper body to the side, hold for 3-5 seconds, and then turn to the other side.
Crunches specifically target your abdominal muscles for better posture and balance.
Make sure your child has a padded mat below them to reduce friction against the tailbone.
Another good idea is to use a stability ball! Just make sure that it is leaning on a wall or large enough object to keep it in place.
Next, have your child perform some side crunches. These are much easier. Have your child sit in a chair, raise their left arm in the air, and then tilt their body to the right.
They should feel the stretch on their left side. Hold for 5-10 seconds, and then repeat with the right arm up and tilt to the left.
4. Knees to Chest
Have your child lay flat. Then, bend one knee and use the arms to help bring it to the chest.
Make sure that your child is using the legs to keep the leg up rather than using the arms to keep the leg up.
Another variation of this exercise is to touch the right elbow with the left knee and the left elbow with the right knee.
This creates more dynamic, twisting motions that will also work the sides of the trunk.
Once your child masters the form, encourage them to perform a certain amount of reps or to increase speed.
Planks not only strengthen your core but also your entire body, which makes it a very efficient full-body exercise.
Have your child get into a pushup position with the hands a little bit wider than shoulder-width apart and neck in alignment with the back. Their head should be facing down towards the ground.
If a regular plank is too difficult for your child, have them get on their knees instead of their toes, or on their forearms instead of their hands.
This will reduce the pressure, provide more stability, and still work out the core.
Hold the position for 20-30 seconds, or as long as your child can without struggling too much.
Have your child lay on their back with knees bent and feet flat.
Make sure that their hands are by their side and that their palms are facing down.
Then, tell them to lift their butt up towards the ceiling. Their mid to lower back should be raised off the ground.
Have them hold for a few seconds and then lower themselves down.
Have your child lay on their stomach.
Slowly grab their lower legs or feet and lift so that the lower body is in the air.
Then, have your child slowly get onto their hands or forearms and lift the rest of the body up.
To make it more challenging, have your child move forward and backward a few steps.
Basically, they should be using their arms as legs while you’re holding their legs up and following them.
8. Hula Hooping
Hula hooping is fun, so for many kids, it won’t feel like exercising at all.
The circular motions stimulate the core, but your child will be so distracted trying to keep the hula hoop from falling that they won’t realize how many repetitions they’re performing.
A weighted hula hoop will be easier to keep going for longer periods, while a lighter hula hoop will require more movements and energy.
Cerebral Palsy and Exercise
Cerebral palsy will affect the movements of every child a little differently, so be sure to adjust each exercise to your child’s individual abilities.
Core exercises for cerebral palsy patients should be challenging but also realistic.
If your child has very limited movement, have them sit on a stability ball for a few minutes. It will make them constantly move a little bit to maintain their center of gravity.
The video below will demonstrate some core exercises that your child may be able to practice if they are in a wheelchair.
The idea is not for your child to get a 6-pack. You just want them to be exercising their core enough that their overall balance and posture improve.