By Lisa Labre
My son Chase has cerebral palsy which for him affects the right side of his body. His entire right side is weaker than his left side. This has affected his ability to do anything that requires the use of both hands. I found out about the Constraint –Induced Movement Therapy Program at Kennedy Krieger and that my son was eligible for the program.
The Wikipedia definition of Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy is a type of rehabilitation therapy used for improving upper extremity function in individuals who have had a stroke or damage to the central nervous system. The goal of the therapy is to improve use of the affected limb. There are a variety of restraints used to keep the intended limb from moving. The therapy was discovered by Dr. Edward Taub, who’s infamous animal testing gave birth to the animal rights group PETA.
In layman’s terms, Constraint –Induced Movement Therapy is when the unaffected hand and arm is secured in a way to prevent movement. Therefore, making the affected hand and arm the only option for use.
He first attended the Constraint-Induced Therapy during the summer months so it wouldn’t interfere with school. Therapy began with the therapist securing a cast on his left arm that covered the hand and went a little past his elbow. This ensured that there would be absolutely no help from the left arm and hand. He had to completely rely on his right arm and hand for everything until the therapy was completed. He attended Occupational Therapy Monday through Friday, three hours a day, which targeted the use of his right hand and arm.
Practitioners have said that repetitive exercises with the affected limb help the brain grow new neural pathways, which has become known as neuroplasticity. After a few weeks the therapy was done and the cast came off. At first, my son was unaware he could even go back to using his left hand and arm. He continued to use his affected right side. It wasn’t until 24 hours later that he realized he could start using his left hand and arm again.
Chase is now seven years old and has retained some of the strides he made with the therapy. He has since repeated the constraint program and is due to start the program again in August. His affected hand and arm has a more relaxed position. He is now conscious of being able to use both hands in everyday situations. His left hand and arm will always be dominant but, I think with time, maturing, and more therapy he will improve. It seems like new ideas and therapies are always replacing the old ones. In my experience the constraint –induced therapy had a time tested positive result for my son.