Promising steps ahead for teenagers with cerebral palsy | Action Medical Research

Promising steps ahead for teenagers with cerebral palsy

30 July 2015

A new trial exercise programme for teenagers with cerebral palsy starts in London on 3 August. The programme will involve up to 60 young people aged 12-19.

Children’s charity Action Medical Research and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Charitable Trust are jointly funding the three year study.

Estimates suggest around one in every 400 people has cerebral palsy in the UK1. They will experience lifelong problems with movement and coordination, which vary greatly from one child to another.

Lead researcher Dr Jennifer Ryan, of Brunel University London, wants to find out whether teenagers with cerebral palsy who perform exercises that strengthen calf muscles find walking easier. She believes this could help them to stay fit and healthy, and improve their overall wellbeing.

“A lot of teenagers with cerebral palsy can walk without any kind of walking aid,” Dr Ryan says. “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.”

The type of exercises that participants will be doing will depend on their starting ability. “They might go up and down on their toes, for example, while wearing a vest with weights in it, or point their toes against a resistance band while sitting down,” says Dr Ryan.

For each of the teenagers who volunteers to take part, the programme will start with a clinical assessment involving ultrasound and energy measurement in the university’s bioomechanics laboratory.

This will be followed by regular exercise sessions led by a physiotherapist over 10 weeks. “Group exercise sessions could take place at NHS sites or in nearby gyms,” Dr Ryan explains. Teenagers will be reassessed after 10 weeks and again after 22 weeks.

Looking ahead to the future, Dr Ryan says: “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. 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.”

Dr Caroline Johnston, Research Evaluation Manager at Action Medical Research, says: “It is so important that we continue to fund projects like this which will, we hope, lead to ways to help teenagers with cerebral palsy keep walking as well as possible, for as long as possible.”

Fran Fitch, Research Adviser at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says:  “This project demonstrates how physiotherapy can improve the quality of life for teenagers with cerebral palsy and will be an important addition to the evidence base for clinicians. We are always proud to support such opportunities through our charitable trust and to work with Action Medical Research.”


– ENDS –



High res pics can be downloaded from these links:


Image captions/information:

  1. Usain Bolt, who was training on Brunel’s campus ahead of the 2012 Olympics, trying out the equipment that Dr Ryan will use in assessing teenagers with cerebral palsy
  2. Dr Jennifer M Ryan BSc PG Dip PhD
  3. Children with cerebral palsy using the equipment in earlier studies led by researchers in Brunel University London (more images available – please contact Kate Lee, Research Communications Officer)


1. NHS Choices. Cerebral palsy. Website accessed 30 December 2014.


For further information on Action Medical Research contact:

Kate Lee, Research Communications Officer

T: 01403 327478



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Action Medical Research is a leading UK-wide charity working to save and change children’s lives through medical research. We believe that the diseases that devastate the lives of so many of our children can be beaten. We have been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 like the first polio vaccines in the UK, ultrasound in pregnancy and the rubella vaccine – helping to save thousands of children’s lives and change many more.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world. Charity reg. nos 208701 and SC039284.

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