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Cerebral Palsy Exercises

Many patients that live with cerebral palsy can still pursue an active lifestyle. In fact, those diagnosed early stand a higher chance of reducing the effects through specialized therapy and exercises.

Since cerebral palsy affects muscle function and movement, certain exercises can counteract the typical problems of the condition, as well as improve wellness and body image.

Some beneficial cerebral palsy exercises include stomach and back strengthening exercises, arm bike or recumbent bike, walking, yoga, stretching and swimming.


Exercise programs for people with cerebral palsy should approach with the intent of increasing function, mobility and overall health. A balanced program will include models for flexibility, muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, body composition and balance.

While traditional schools of thought avoided aerobic and resistance exercises for fear that they would enhance the effects of spastic cerebral palsy, new reports show the benefits to the cardiovascular and muscular systems can help with overall motor control.

Limits On Exercise

Experts in sports medicine have suggested that exercise programs designed for those with disabling conditions like cerebral palsy adhere to certain limits. These include:

  • Performing exercises for flexibility of all joints before and after training
  • Aerobic exercises that limit heart rate to 40-85% of peak capacity, 3-5 days per week at 20-40 minutes per session.
  • Walking and wheelchair endurance training limited to sessions of 6-15 minutes.
  • Use of stationary bikes instead of normal bikes, or arm bikes for those in a wheelchair.
  • Strength training with machines or free weights limited to three sets of 8-12 repetitions, 2 sessions per week.


In addition to the limitations recommended above, rehabilitation specialists have also proposed certain guidelines to ensure the safety of those with cerebral palsy beginning a training program.

Above all, any new activity should begin gradually, under the supervision of an exercise or rehabilitation professional. This person should be informed of any medications the patient is taking, as well as any limitations on speech, hearing, vision, or other senses.

Trainers should also be made aware of the risk of seizures.

The patient’s hands and feet should be strapped to any exercise machinery where appropriate to prevent slippage, and their pelvis should be properly positioned in the seat and secured when possible. 

Flotation aids should be used during swimming exercises, and shoes and gloves should be worn when possible for other activities to enhance control.

Stomach and Back Exercises

Exercises that strengthen the stomach or back can help address problems with posture created by cerebral palsy. Depending on the degree of disability, these may be best performed at first under the supervision of a therapist.

Stomach and back cerebral palsy exercises can be as simple as laying on a mat and doing crunches or certain pilates movements. In time, patients may work up to lifting balancing balls from the ground with their arms or legs.

With any strengthening exercise, it is important to remember to work both the right and left side, or front and back side, at the same time. This creates muscle harmony and prevents one side from becoming stronger or tighter, which can result in lost range of motion.

Arm & Leg Exercises

Walking, rolling a wheelchair, or exercising with an arm bike for up to 15 minutes per day, once or twice per week, can be beneficial for improving gait and the use of extremities. These exercises can also increase stamina and distance mobility. 

Yoga & Stretching

Yoga can be extremely beneficial for patients with cerebral palsy. In particular, those who suffer from Spastic CP can relax and repair tight or contracted muscle tendons through Yoga’s stretching and lengthening exercises. It is recommended that patients contact a Yoga professional for a customized program.


Swimming or pool exercises can be of great benefit to those with CP. The natural buoyancy and low-impact resistance of water allows greater range of motion and strength training while limiting the normal stress on joints or drag of body weight.

The availability of cerebral palsy exercises will vary depending on the level of a patient’s disability. Regardless, experts have stated almost unanimously that exercise will help with the limitations of all types of CP.

For a customized exercise program, consult your doctor and/or therapist. The CP Help Center can recommend treatment centers in your area, as well as clinical trial programs.

Your child may also qualify for substantial financial compensation from a lawsuit to help with their care. For more information on the causes, treatment options and research related to cerebral palsy, or to speak with a lawyer, contact us today. We are available 24 hours a day to help.