Intensive suit therapy is a relatively new and experimental form of therapy designed to help children with cerebral palsy improve muscle tone, movement, and posture. Although more studies are needed to confirm how effective this type of therapy is in the long-run, many therapists offer it and stand behind it as a beneficial treatment.
About Intensive Suit Therapy
According to Pacific University’s School of Physical Therapy, intensive suit therapy consists of an orthotic suit that includes a hat, knee pads, and specially-designed therapeutic shoes. The suit also has rings that allow bungee cord-type ropes to be inserted and adjusted according to the child’s height.
Once the child has the suit on and the elastic ropes adjusted, it can help bring the child’s body into the correct alignment and correct abnormal muscle tone. It can also assist in retraining the brain to recognize the new, yet proper, body movements,
While wearing the suit, children participate in exercises in a therapeutic setting. Following an exercise regime while wearing the suit is said to help children reduce ataxia, spasticity, and other symptoms that typically co-exist with cerebral palsy.
The therapy suits have different exercise programs and training methods, depending on the name, such as the:
- Adeli Suit
- Polish Suit
NeuroSuit is currently the only suit that offers elbow pads and gloves, which helps to increase the function and the strength of the arms. Although each suit comes with its own exercise and training program, all of the suits have the common concept of suit therapy.
History of Intensive Suit Therapy
Intensive suit therapy was based off of Russia’s 1971 space program, which allowed cosmonauts to maintain their muscle tone while in a weightless environment. Invented by the Russian Center for Aeronautical and Space Medicine in the late 1960s, the suit, known as the Penguin Suit, proved to be fully functional and reliable. It also helped astronauts prevent disabilities.
In the early 1990s, a team of experts at the Pediatric Institute of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences developed a similar suit to help children with cerebral palsy and other disorders. In 1994, the suit was patented across the world. Many therapists now use the suits, and other suits that were invented for the same purpose, in regular sessions.
Studies on Intensive Suit Therapy
Pacific University’s School of Physical Therapy states that they noticed some improvement in standing ability from the patients who underwent intensive suit therapy from their program, more studies are needed to truly understand how effective this type of therapy is. A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came to the same conclusion.
Yet, a study conducted by Polish Professor Siemionowa indicates that after around the 2nd or 3rd exercise session, children begin to show decreased spasticity and diminished hyperkinesis. The study also showed that cognitive, motor, and speech development were normalized.
Combining traditional therapy with intensive suit therapy has proven to be the most beneficial. In a research published in 2011 by the Online Journal of Health and Allied Sciences, a team of physicians studied 30 children with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, ranging from ages 4-12. All of the children participated in traditional physiotherapy, combined with intensive suit therapy, for two hours a day, for three weeks. The results indicate that the children had significant improvement in gross motor function.
A Typical Intensive Suit Therapy Session
Intensive suit therapy sessions are provided by licensed therapists all across the nation who are generally certified physical therapists with hands-on training in intensive suit therapy. Although each exercise program may differ according to the therapists who provide the sessions, a typical day may consist of:
- Tissue massage and warm-ups
- Sensory Integration techniques
- Proper movement patterns and exercises
- Motor development
- Strengthening exercises
- Flexibility, balance, and coordination exercises
Cables, pulleys, and weights can also be used to teach various rehabilitation techniques. Children often exercise in safe universal exercise units, also known as “monkey cages” or “spider cages,” in which the pulleys and weights help to isolate muscle movements and strengthen them.
Intensive Suit Therapy Cautions and Warnings
Intensive suit therapy is not for every child with cerebral palsy. Children with the following medical conditions may not be able to take part in this type of therapy, although their physician and therapist will have the final decision:
- High blood pressure
- Heart issues
- Kidney problems
Another important factor to consider is the cost of intensive suit therapy. Most insurance companies will not cover the cost of purchasing the suit, which unfortunately can set families back thousands of dollars. Some insurance companies don’t cover the therapy itself, as it’s still considered a experimental form of treatment.
Before starting intensive suit therapy, it’s always a good idea to contact your insurance company first to see what, if any, portions of the program are covered. In addition, be certain to check with your child’s physician before starting any form of therapy, as other conditions your child has may interfere.