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Be Sure to Treat Cerebral Palsy Range-of-Motion (ROM) Issues

By Lee Vanderloop

Range of motion is the measurement used to describe the degree of flexion in a joint (how far it can be bent) and extension (how far it can be stretched or extended out). Many children, especially children with spastic cerebral palsy experience limited range of motion. Children with hemiplegia cerebral palsy may experience limited range of motion involving the extremities on one side of their body while children with quadrapalegia may experience range of motion issues with all extremities including the trunk, putting them at risk for spinal scoliosis.

Types of  Range of Motion

ROM is usually measured by the number of degrees. There are specific perimeters of measurement in determining normal range-of-motion. A device called a goniometer is used to measure range-of-motion.

If you’ve ever had an injury resulting in casting or any form of immobilization for a period of time, you probably experienced limited range of motion when the cast was removed. You may even have needed physical therapy to regain normal range of motion in that extremity.

Children with spastic cerebral palsy who are non-ambulatory often require daily range-of-motion exercises. This is because spacticity issues left untreated can lead to spinal scoliosis and deforming contractures , especially to joints such as the knee, ankle, elbow and wrist. The absence of range-of-motion exercises also can seriously compromise benefits from physical therapy.

Personal Experience

My daughter suffers from severe spastic quadrapalegia cerebral palsy and medications did little to reduce the spasticity. The chronic spasticity made physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises, though necessary, unproductive and all but useless in our attempts to prevent contractures of her extremities. It would take 30 minutes of relaxation techniques just to relax her enough to do any type of range-of-motion exercises.

By age 12, in spite of our best efforts, the constant hypertonia/spasticity resulted in severe contractions. Her right knee had contracted to the point where she was literally almost sitting on her right foot. Her upper extremities also showed the consequences. With the spasticity causing her to constantly pull her arms into her chest (fists under her chin), her arms had contracted at the elbow, and any attempts to range her resulted in her pulling her arms in even tighter. These contractures impacted her quality of life and made dressing and positioning her all but impossible.

The contracture in her right leg was partially resolved with tendon release surgery, but with her chronic hypertonia still not resolved, this was a temporary fix.

It wasn’t until we reduced the level of hypertonia with intrathecal baclofen that we realized any benefits from physical therapy or range-of-motion exercises. Within two years of the baclofen surgery we were witnessing an incredible 60-80% improvement in her range-of-motion for both upper and lower extremities.

It is imperative that every attempt be made to alleviate excess tone and spasticity to the extent possible, in order to achieve the maximum benefit from physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises, and to deter contractures.

Children who suffer with hypotonia are not at the same risk of contractures as children with spastic CP, but still require physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises to prevent muscle atrophy and maintain joint mobility.

Questions to Ask


Mayo Clinic, Cerebral palsy, Complications, Contractures
WebMD, Children’s Health, Cerebral Palsy - Surgery
WebMD, Contractures in people with cerebral palsy
WebMD, Scoliosis
WebMD, Orthopedic surgery for cerebral palsy
WebMD, Physical Therapy – Topic Overview

Community Resources

6 Responses to “Be Sure to Treat Cerebral Palsy Range-of-Motion (ROM) Issues”

  1. Laurie Garcia says:

    This past November I had an Intrathecal baclofen pump put in. I am MUCH more mobile and ambullatory than the examples I have read. An old friend of mine also has one and it has helped him. However i do have a question. Because of my ROM being on the high side can I do damage to the pump or tubing. Email me please. Laurie

  2. Lee Vanderloop says:

    Hi Laurie, My daughter Danielle has been in ITB therapy for 14 years (her current being her 3rd pump) and we’ve never had a problem with anything inspite of her severe hypertonia at times and scoliosis. I think they allow extra catherter when they place them to allow for tone and mobility
    Here’s an informative link to Medtronics:

  3. [...] Lee Vanderloop’s daughter,  Danielle, suffered from severe spasticity, requiring a number of therapies and treatments, including surgery.  Her story shows how range of motion therapy is critical to aiding physical therapy. To find out more about Danielle’s fight to regain her range of motion and tips on working with doctors visit our article here. [...]

  4. Anbrin says:

    My daughter has severe spasticity on all her joints. In fact now a bump shows on the left side of her back …. Like a hump but very mild. I am regularly taking her for Physio therapy …… But she still walks with bent knees…..

  5. Anbrin says:

    My daughter has severe spasticity on all her joints. In fact now a bump shows on the left side of her back …. Like a hump but very mild. I am regularly taking her for Physio therapy …… But she still walks with bent knees…..

  6. […] from this form of therapy. A slow, gentle regimen with periodic assessments of your child’s range of motion is the key to an effective occupational therapy program for cerebral […]

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