Special Suit Helps Kids With Cerebral Palsy Walk

TheraSuit Said To Improves Balance, Provide Stabilization, Normalize Gait

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that makes walking, speaking and learning difficult for many kids. There is no cure, but now a special suit that was first used in Russia for their astronauts is helping kids do what they once couldn't.

Nicole Miller can't do everything other kids her age can, but don't tell her that.

Nicole was born weighing just 1 pound, 14 ounces. Doctors diagnosed her with cerebral palsy.

"She's realizing that she's different, and she wants to be able to do what the other kids do," said Joy Miller, Nicole's mom.

Thanks to a special suit and intensive therapy, Nicole really can.

"It helps me stand strong better and do all kinds of stuff," said Nicole, 11.

With the suit on, Nicole stands for 300 seconds.

And she uses her walker to scoot across the room by herself. It's a "first" that she's proud of. The TheraSuit retrains the nervous system. Bungees keep the body aligned properly and apply pressure to weak muscles.

"It's applying compression, anywhere from 30 to 55 pounds of pressure throughout the body," said Ariana Watson, an occupational therapist at Innovative Children's Therapy, Inc. in Winter Park, Fla.

But it's not just the suit. It's the length of the therapy. Instead of 30 to 60 minutes, one to three times a week, this intense program includes four hours of therapy, five days a week for three weeks at a time.

"In that time, they make exceptional progress," Watson said.

Five-year-old Andres was also born with cerebral palsy. After just three weeks, Andres said goodbye to his walker and only needed crutches.

"The doctor told us he would not be able to walk, would only be able to crawl, but look at him now," said Jose Toro, Andres' dad.

In a pilot study, 92 percent of kids who used the suit in an intensive program saw improvement. Twenty-one percent were able to walk on their own, and 39 percent learned to stand by themselves. The therapy sessions are expensive, costing parents about $100 an hour. For a three-week session, that's $6,600.

BACKGROUND: According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, cerebral palsy refers to a neurological disorder that appears in infancy or early childhood and permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements. Most children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until years later. Some signs of the condition include a lack of muscle coordination, stiff or tight muscles, walking with one foot or leg dragging, walking on the toes, a crouched gait and muscle tone that is too stiff or too "floppy."

STANDARD TREATMENTS: There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but treatment will often help a child function better. Standard treatments for cerebral palsy may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, drugs (to control seizures, muscle spasms and pain), surgery (to correct abnormalities), and braces.

THERASUIT: The TheraSuit is a special device that is worn to help kids with cerebral palsy and other disorders. It consists of bungees that keep the body aligned properly and apply pressure. The pressure helps patients feel their body better. The suit retrains the central nervous system, improves balance and coordination, provides stabilization, supports weak muscles, and normalizes gait. It originated in Russia and was brought to the United States by Izabela and Richard Koscielny. The Koscielnys have a child with cerebral palsy and are also physical therapists. They created the TheraSuit Method, which is based on an intensive and specific exercise program. Typically, kids with cerebral palsy only partake in therapy sessions for an hour or less, one to three times a week. In the intense program, kids typically undergo therapy with the suit and other equipment for up to four hours a day, five times a week. The sessions usually last for three weeks at a time.

RESULTS: In a pilot study conducted at the Pediatric Fitness Center in Keego Harbor, MI, researchers studied 20 children with cerebral palsy who used the TheraSuit Method. The study found 92 percent of participants experienced functional improvements. Other improvements were also made in coordination, strength, range of motion, balance and movement control. Ninety percent of the participants learned to roll independently, and 75 percent learned to sit without assistance. More than 30 percent learned to walk with assistive devices, and 21 percent gained the ability to walk independently.

SUIT HELPS OTHER DISORDERS: The TheraSuit can help kids with disorders other than cerebral palsy. It can be used for those who suffer from developmental delays, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, spasticity, low muscle tone and ataxia.