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Physical Therapy May Hold the Key to Brain-Based Changes in Adults with Cerebral Palsy


Cerebral Graphic

Friday, March 26, 2021

A recent study conducted by the Power of Walking & Engineering Rehabilitation (PoWER) Laboratory, part of the Boys Town National Research Hospital® Institute for Human Neuroscience, used MEG (magnetoencephalography) imaging to study the brain activity of people with cerebral palsy to sensations applied to the leg. 

“This study measures what happens as individuals move into adulthood, which is a critical window that changes their mobility and motor actions," said Max Kurz, Ph.D., director of the PoWER Laboratory. “What we've found is that when those sensations are applied, the brain is not as active as it is for the general population."

As people age, they do not register sensations as acutely as when they were younger. This study finds that the population with cerebral palsy has an accelerated downward trajectory in their nervous system. Essentially, people with cerebral palsy have nervous systems that age faster.

That can have detrimental effects on the lives of patients with cerebral palsy since even everyday activities like the ability to button a shirt or brush their teeth can become difficult.

“So, we've identified these deficits," said Kurz. “Now the question is how we alter them? How can we make the decline not so steep so that it becomes more normalized and maybe their nervous system doesn't age as fast?"

Currently, the PoWER lab uses physical therapy for patients with cerebral palsy to keep sensations flowing to the brain, improving the brain's flexibility and maintaining its ability to register sensations.

For example, if you sit in a chair all day long, your muscle tone diminishes. If people with cerebral palsy move less as they enter adulthood, their brain loses tactile acuity, which makes registering sensations even more difficult. The effects of this loss can be spiraling. The less confident a person is in their ability to read sensations, the less likely they are to move and the more out-of-practice the brain becomes at interpreting the signals it does get.

“We've done a small study which is physical therapy-based. And what we're seeing is that the brain's reactivity and registry of sensations is improved," said Kurz. “ We're looking to start a larger clinical research project soon that will champion the use of physical therapy. We hope to understand the key ingredients for making these brain-based changes."

For more information about the study just published, visit: