Cerebral palsy is largely a physical disability. It is the most common motor disability of childhood and prevents many children from walking without assistance or at all. While there are many treatments available, there is no cure. There is hope, though, that kids with these disabilities could gain mobility and ability to play with a breakthrough researchers recently made in orthotics.
Orthotics Research for Children with Cerebral Palsy
The new breakthrough in using orthotics to help disabled children walk and play comes from a study and clinical trials held in the United Kingdoms. The work is led by researchers from the Clinical Biomechanics department at Staffordshire University and specialists in orthotics at the Royal Wolverton National Health Service Trust.
The researchers worked with participants and analyzed their walking and gait using no aids, with a standard splint, and with a specially-tuned splint. The researchers fine-tuned walking splints so that they worked better with the orthotic or standard shoes worn by each child.
They found that the tuned splint-shoe combination significantly decreased the amount of energy the children used when walking and made it easier. Compared to going without a splint or with a standard, non-tuned splint, the children could move faster and walk for longer periods of time. The tuned splint lessened fatigue.
The detailed gait analysis of each child also gave the researchers in-depth information about how the devices changed their movement. The tuned splint improved knee extension and the ability to use the hip joint correctly.
One young man in the study reported that he walked better with the new splint because of how it fit his foot. Instead of walking on his toes, he was able to walk more naturally, from heel to toe and with the ankle at a 90-degree angle.
The researchers are hoping to extend this study and determine how the splints will help children in the long-term. They recommend that all children get fine-tuned splints, which they refer to as ankle foot orthoses, or AFO.
The Importance of Mobility
Restoring, at least partially, mobility to children who struggle to move and walk is important for overall health and quality of life. Cerebral palsy causes a wide range of disabilities. Some children cannot walk at all, others can walk with almost no problems, and some are in between, needing assistance or being limited.
Struggles with mobility present practical problems, like being able to navigate a home or classroom. They also limit physical fitness. A child who cannot walk easily may have more health issues as a result of being unable to exercise normally.
Also important is that these disabilities negatively impact a child’s quality of life. If they cannot play and run with their friends, they miss out on fun. They may even become socially isolated, withdrawn, or lonely and depressed.
The AFOs used by the researchers in the current study are simple in design, but they have a big impact. To be able to have a custom fit and to tune the splint to work with a child’s shoes make a difference. In the future, more children should have improved mobility thanks to this simple breakthrough.