Cerebral Palsy and Intensive Suit Therapy
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Intensive suit therapy is a relatively new and experimental form of therapy designed to help those with cerebral palsy improve muscle tone, posture, and movement. Although more studies are needed to confirm its effectiveness in the long-run, many therapists offer it because they feel it is a beneficial treatment for their patients.
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-like ropes to be inserted and adjusted according to the child’s height.
Once the child has the suit on and the elastic ropes are adjusted, it works to bring the body into proper alignment and helps to improve abnormal muscle tone. In this way, the suit assists in retraining the brain to recognize the new, corrected body movements.
While wearing the suit, the child participates in a series of specific 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 coexist with cerebral palsy.
The different types of therapy suits are named, and each one is associated with a related exercise program and training method. Here are the names of a few of the more commonly used suits:
- Adeli Suit
- Polish Suit
Some suits, such as the NeuroSuit and TheraSuit, offer elbow pads and gloves, which help to increase the function and strength of the arms. Although each suit comes with its own exercise and training program, all of the suits work within a similar therapeutic concept.
History of Intensive Suit Therapy
Intensive suit therapy was initially based on Russia’s 1971 space program, which allowed cosmonauts to maintain normal 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 reliable and fully functional in helping astronauts to 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 designed to help children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders. In 1994, the suit was patented across the world. Many therapists now use those suits and others that were invented later for the same purpose, in regular therapy sessions.
Studies on Intensive Suit Therapy
Pacific University’s School of Physical Therapy reported noticing some improvement in standing ability in the patients who underwent intensive suit therapy from their program. A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came to the same conclusion. More research is needed to truly understand how effective this type of therapy is.
A study conducted by the Institute’s Professor Siemionowa, who worked on the team that developed the “Adeli Suit,” indicates that, after the second or third exercise session, children begin to demonstrate decreased spasticity and diminished hyperkinesis. The study showed use of the suit had a beneficial effect on the vestibular system, which translates into improvements in balance and spatial awareness.
Combining traditional therapy with intensive suit therapy has proven to be the most beneficial. In 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 to 12 years. All of the children participated in a combination of traditional physiotherapy and intensive suit therapy for two hours a day, over a period of three weeks. The results indicated 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 across the nation who are generally certified physical therapists that have received hands-on training in intensive suit therapy. Although each exercise program may differ somewhat according to the therapists providing the sessions, a typical day may consist of:
- Tissue massage and warm-ups
- Sensory Integration techniques
- Proper movement patterns and body alignment
- Development of motor skills
- Strengthening exercises
- Flexibility, balance, and coordination exercises
Cables, pulleys, and weights can also be used to facilitate 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 movements, thereby strengthening the muscles.
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 make the final determination:
- High blood pressure
- Heart and circulatory conditions
- Kidney problems
- Severe scoliosis
- Hydrocephalus (VP shunt)
- Uncontrolled seizures
Another important factor to consider is the cost of intensive suit therapy. Most insurance companies will not cover the purchase of the suit and that, unfortunately, can set families back thousands of dollars. Some insurance companies don’t cover the therapy itself, as it is still considered experimental.
Before starting intensive suit therapy, it’s always a good idea to contact your insurance company first to see what portion, if any, of the program is covered. In addition, be certain to check with your child’s physician before starting any form of therapy, as other medical conditions your child has may interfere.