Last week I received a request from MarkNS asking about cerebral palsy therapy when viewed from neuroplasticity. Sounds good, let’s look at that.
I did not know much about cerebral palsy prior to this post, but strangely I do know an ultimate fighter with it… Cerebral palsy is a multi-faceted disorder that comes in all shapes in sizes, many of which are outside the scope of this post. When looked at with a simplistic view, cerebral palsy is a movement disorder caused by damage to the motor cortex of the brain.
Brain damage. “Irreversible. Permanent.” <–Wrong! The most common form of brain damage associated with neuroplasticity is in stroke patients. This is where the greater body of research can be found. It would seem that for many years all signs pointed to “you’re screwed”. That is, until Edward Taub came onto the scene.
Taub, through deafferentation experiments on monkeys, invented a new form of therapy, Constraint Induced (CI) Therapy (Simple or Advanced explanation, I recommend the advanced if you have the time as I will only touch lightly on it). The premise of this therapy focuses on a phenomenon called “learned non-use”. In essence, after losing a degree of control in one limb you then compensate with the other to pick up the slack. (e.g. after a stroke affecting the left side, you would use your right side that much more.) When this compensation occurs the neural pathways begin to weaken, leading to even further non-use.
So we know how to lose it, now how do we get it back? CI Therapy essentially forces the affected limb to switch roles. By restraining the “good” limb and using only the “bad” one, the patient begins to build motor control on the weaker side. It turns out this not only builds character but rebuilds the pathways!
So that’s all fine and dandy for strokes, but what about cerebral palsy? There’s an app for that. Unfortunately the only data I could find was done on children with hemiparesis associated with cerebral palsy. The good news is that the children responded amazingly well to the therapy and sustained the results afterwards. The range of effectiveness is still limited for the moment. CI Therapy has come a long way and it would be a safe assumption that it will continue on.