12:32pm Thursday 17 October 2019

Sitting study helps children with cerebral palsy improve sitting skills

“Show me your cute face,” she would say.
Born with severe cerebral palsy, which causes spastic limbs and decreased posture control, the 6-year-old has limited control of his trunk muscles. At times, he has about as much stability as Jell-O, his mom said.
But because of a sitting study at the University of Nebraska Medical Center Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI), Ethan now sits up straighter and holds his head higher, making it easier for his mom to snap his photos.
Reggie Harbourne, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical therapy at MMI, has studied sitting in children with moderate to severe cerebral palsy for much of her career.
“It’s an issue because most things people do require an upright posture,” she said. “If you can’t sit up, you can’t interact with the world.”
Her latest study is funded by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. In collaboration with Nick Stergiou, Ph.D., a biomechanist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the study compares two treatments designed to improve sitting ability.
The control group receives physical therapy treatments twice a week while the experimental group receives the same therapy, but on top of a mat that vibrates randomly at different frequencies.
“In theory, the mat amps up the ability to sense where one’s body is in space,” Dr. Harbourne said, and therefore improves sitting skills.
Harbourne got the idea for her research from a study at Boston University in which vibratory insoles were placed in the shoes of stroke and Parkinson’s patients to help their balance when they walk.
“These techniques have been used in studies of the elderly involving standing, but there is not much out there about sitting, and sitting comes before standing,” Dr. Harbourne said.
Early results indicate that those using the vibratory mat have improved their sitting ability slightly more than the control group, though both groups have become more stable at sitting.
“If there is a meaningful difference, we would like to convert the mat into something children with cerebral palsy can actu­ally use,” Dr. Harbourne said.
Ethan was in the control group. Not only did his sitting im­prove, but he also increased his play skills, another factor in Dr. Harbourne’s study.
Eating also has gotten easier and more enjoyable for Ethan.
For more information about the study contact Reggie at (402) 559-5067 or rharbour@unmc.edu.


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