Physical Therapy Boosts Brain Power in Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy

Published on:March 22, 2019

OMAHA, NEBRASKA—Children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy achieved improved functioning of the prefrontal cortex regions of their brains in a study using intense exercise sessions—designed as games—in which both hands had to be used together to achieve specific manual dexterity tasks.

In the investigation—published in Pediatric Physical Therapy journal (Pediatr Phys Ther 2018;0:1–8)—lead author Swati Surkar PT, PhD from the Sensorimotor Learning Laboratory, at the Munroe-Meyer Institute in the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, described her group's findings from the trial in a cohort of children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy who had only one arm functioning normally and needed to get their impaired limbs to perform motor tasks more effectively.

The researchers tracked brain functioning before and after therapy by using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to detect cerebral cortical oxygenation.

They concluded that not only did the bimanual therapy (known as Hand Arm Bimanual Intensive Therapy—HABIT) help children achieve significant improvements in affected limb function but children also had a clear increase of the brain's ability to plan strategies to achieve the skill tasks required by the HABIT protocol.

Senior study author Max Kurz PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the Munroe-Meyer Institute in the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, commented that the findings had potential implications far beyond treatment for cerebral palsy and give confirmation that intensive physical exercise brings direct benefit to the brain.