Written by Jeff Meyer on 12 Mar 2016
Big news for those who have children suffering from cerebral palsy: a specialized vibration plate is giving those who use it stronger bones and even improved mobility!
These are the findings of a clinical trial that involved young adults with cerebral palsy. It was carried out by the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland. They used whole-body vibration training and have since published the results online in a journal from the Nature Publishing Group called Scientific Reports.
The trial involved 40 young adults with cerebral palsy who were between 11 and 20 years of age. They would stand on a specially designed vibration plate four days a week for nine minutes over the course of 20 weeks. After this protocol had finished, the researchers found a number of notable benefits.
In fact, according to Dr. Silmara Gusso, a Liggins Research Fellow who led the study, some of the young adults actually showed dramatic improvements.
While they had anticipated that this type of vibration therapy would increase the participants’ bone and muscle mass—which happened—they hadn’t anticipated that their day-to-day functioning would improve as well.
According to Dr. Gusso, “Some kids were walking 30 percent further in a six-minute walk test – that might not sound much for us, but being able to walk an extra 100m is huge for them. The feedback from parents and carers about the changes they were noticing was especially encouraging: improved mood, greater maneuverability and fewer falls. In a group with troublesome constipation, vibration therapy was also unexpectedly beneficial.”
That’s not all. There were also emotional changes as well. “Confidence improved: kids who used to walk around holding onto rails are now walking around the school with their chins up.”
The research was funded by the Sir David Levene Foundation and the Jubilee Crippled Children Foundation Trust.
The Most Common Physical Disability in Children
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a group of movement disorders. It is the most common form of physical disability in children, affecting some two in every 100. Usually, it appears during birth or in early infancy, though the actual damage to the brain that causes it may happen during pregnancy.
The damage produces abnormal development in the brain where movement, posture and balance are controlled. Children who have cerebral palsy suffer from impaired muscular function and reduced mass in their muscles and bones. Often, muscles that are supposed to work together will spontaneously enter into spasms at the same time.
This can obviously make muscle movement quite difficult, which eventually evolves into muscle waste. A little over half of children with cerebral palsy have a better than 50% chance of suffering a bone fracture in their lives. For the most part, this is because their disease keeps them from healthy bone development.
Until now, attempts at relieving the effects of cerebral palsy have produced fairly limited results. Injecting botox, passively stretching the muscles by physiotherapists, injecting bisphosphonates and even surgery have all come up short in trying to increase bone density.
Previous studies—done on a much smaller scale—had indicated that WBVT (Whole Body Vibration Training) provided benefits to young adults with cerebral palsy. This trial, which is easily the largest and most rigorous yet, confirms these benefits exist and has given researchers further insights into them.
For the study, a vibration plate that was specifically developed for physical therapy was used. Patients got barefoot and stood on the plate holding onto its metal frame if necessary. The seesaw movement of the plate created a pattern in the young person’s legs that is similar to walking. This is believed to improve communication between the spine and the muscles, thus aiding coordination and overall balance.
Gusso and the rest of her Liggins Institute team are now conducting trials to follow up on this assertion. They are also going to research its effects on those with more severe forms of cerebral palsy and other types of disorders.