Cerebral Palsy can be a devastating disability that causes limb spasticity and decreased limb control, making it extremely difficult for a child with CP to sit up properly. For a mom like Kim Falk, whose 6-year-old son Ethan has CP, these means that she gets very few pictures of Ethan lifting his head and sitting up straight. But thanks to a new University of Nebraska Medical Center Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI) study, Ethan has been able to sit up a lot straighter and hold his head higher, making it easier for his mom to snap photos.
Reggie Harbourne, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy at MMI, has studied sitting in children with cerebral palsy for much of her career. Thanks to her latest study, which was funded by a $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, a new vibrating mat has helped children with cerebral palsy improve their sitting abilities. In the study, a control group receives traditional physical therapy treatments twice a week while the experimental group receives the same therapy but while sitting on top of a vibrating mat. The mat vibrates randomly at different frequencies, and according to Dr. Harbourne, helps the children to sense where their bodies sit in space, therefore improving their sitting skills.
Harbourne got the idea for her research from a study at Boston University where patients with Parkinson’s Disease or those who had suffered a stroke wore vibrating insoles in their shoes to help them improve their balance when they walk. Early results of Harbourne’s study show that those children with CP who used the vibrating mat improved their sitting ability slightly more than the control group, though both groups became more stable at sitting from the regular physical therapy.