From the ages of about zero to three children’s bodies and brains grow quickly. This is the best time to receive intensive therapy as the brain is ready to learn and will remember good movement patterns that are practised.
Growing pain for children with CP
It’s normal for bones to grow faster than muscles during growth spurts. This is where growing pains come from. In children who don’t have CP, their muscles will eventually catch up in length. Spasticity (tightness) makes this much harder for kids who do have CP, and those muscles are stiffer, difficult to control and harder to move through a usual range of movement. During a growth spurt, it’s common for the muscle to become even tighter. For example, it may become more pronounced that a child is walking on their toes as the Achilles tendon becomes increasingly tight.
The importance of staying active
Contracture means shortening of the muscle. A child is at risk of developing a contracture if a muscle is so stiff it can’t stretch. Contractures can be very painful and eventually can cause deformities.
It is so important to keep muscles as flexible as possible. Staying active and regularly practising exercises provided by your physiotherapist are great ways to keep muscles moving. If you are worried that any muscle group is getting stiffer as a result of a growth spurt, don’t delay in raising it with your physiotherapist.
As children grow and become heavier the muscles have to work harder. Standing and walking may become more effortful for a child. As they grow up they may need different types of mobility aid. For example, to negotiate the long corridors and walks between classes at secondary school, it might be beneficial for a child to use their wheelchair and save walking for classroom-based activities.
As young people hit the teenage years it’s natural for them to want more independence and privacy. A person with cerebral palsy is no different from anyone else when it comes to wanting to make decisions and living more independently, including going to college or university, getting a job, or moving out of home (either completely independently or with appropriate help and support).
Helping a child develop from dependence to independence is a long process, starting in the early years. For a child with CP, various therapies will aim to maximize abilities in communication, mobility and function inside and outside the home.