Cerebral palsy: can exercises that strengthen calf muscles make walking easier for teenagers? | Children's Charity

Cerebral palsy: can exercises that strengthen calf muscles make walking easier for teenagers?

This research was completed on 1 August 2018

Published on 2 February 2015

Estimates suggest around one in every 400 children has cerebral palsy in the UK.1 They will experience lifelong problems with movement and coordination, which vary greatly from one child to another. If children learn to walk, it’s important to help them maintain this ability for as long as possible. Dr Jennifer Ryan, of Brunel University London, is investigating whether teenagers who perform exercises that strengthen calf muscles find walking easier. She believes this could help teenagers with cerebral palsy to stay fit and healthy, and improve their overall wellbeing.

Action Medical Research and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Charitable Trust are jointly funding this study

How are children’s lives affected now?

Every year in the UK, around 2,000 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the commonest physical disability of childhood.1-4 Parents often ask whether their child will learn to walk independently.

“A lot of teenagers with cerebral palsy can walk without any kind of walking aid,” says Dr Ryan “However, they tend to walk more slowly than other teenagers and walking takes more effort. They may find they can’t keep up with their friends, or tire more quickly, meaning they take part in fewer day-to-day activities, including sports.”

“Sadly, walking difficulties often become worse as teenagers become young adults,” continues Dr Ryan. “Associated reductions in levels of activity may put people with cerebral palsy at increased risk of getting heart disease and type 2 diabetes at a young age.”

We urgently need ways to help teenagers with cerebral palsy to keep walking as well as possible for as long as possible.

How could this research help?

“We’re investigating whether an exercise programme that’s designed to strengthen calf muscles benefits teenagers with cerebral palsy by improving their walking,” says Dr Ryan.

The team hopes to find answers to several important questions:

  • Do teenagers find the exercise programme acceptable? Does it fit well into day-to-day life?
  • Do the exercises make walking easier, reducing the effort required? Do they increase teenagers’ physical activity levels and help them participate more fully in everyday life?
  • How do the exercises improve walking? What effects do they have on the different muscles and tendons in the leg?

“If the exercise programme proves beneficial, it could lead to improvements in the physiotherapy that’s offered to teenagers with cerebral palsy and provide them with a programme that they can continue to perform independently in their local gym,” says Dr Ryan. “In the long run, we hope our work will enable people with cerebral palsy to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible, and improve their general level of wellbeing.”


1. NHS Choices. Cerebral palsy. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cerebral-palsy/pages/introduction.aspx Website accessed 30 December 2014.

2. ISD Scotland. Births in Scottish Hospitals. Year ending 31st March 2013. Publication date – 26th August 2014. http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Maternity-and-Births/Publicatio... Website accessed 19 January 2015.

3. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Births. Live Births, 1887 to 2013 (Excel). http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/default.asp8.htm Website accessed 19 January 2015.

4. Office for National Statistics. Births in England and Wales 2013. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/birth-summary-tables--england-and-wa... Website accessed 19 January 2015.


Project LeaderDr Jennifer M Ryan BSc PG Dip PhD
Project team
  • Dr Thomas Korff BSc PhD
  • Professor V Bill Baltzopoulos BSc MPhil PhD
  • Dr Cherry Kilbride MSc PhD
  • Dr Adam P Shortland BSc PhD
  • Ms Wendy Levin GradDip Phys
LocationCentre for Research in Rehabilitation, Brunel University London
Other locations
  • Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance, Brunel University London
  • One Small Step Gait Laboratory, Guy's Hospital, London
  • Swiss Cottage School Development and Research Centre, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
Duration3 years
Grant awarded24 November 2014
Start date2 August 2015
End date1 August 2018
Grant amount£249,847.00
Grant codeGN2340
AcknowledgementsThis project is supported by a generous grant from The Henry Smith Charity

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