Space-Age Therapy Suit Aids Cerebral Palsy Patients

Some non-traditional therapies for treating cerebral palsy are always gaining the attention of people with the condition or people that have children with the condition. One of these therapy methods is a space-age suit that helps with some of the symptoms and difficulties of cerebral palsy.

Space-Age Origins

The earliest example of the suits is traced back to cosmonauts in Soviet Union space programs and the problems they suffered in outer space travel. The cosmonauts were carried because they were unable to walk. Cosmonauts would face numerous neurological problems due to the lack of compression in space. Some of the problems include:

  • Elongation of spinal cords by two inches
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Bone demineralization
  • Loss of range of motion (ROM) and function in muscles

While children with cerebral palsy have different causes for their difficulties than cosmonauts, both groups faced the same symptoms. Due to this similarity, a Russian scientist created the suit to help the cosmonauts cope with these symptoms in 1971.

Earlier Prototypes

Prototypes of this suit to specifically aid children with developmental problems were made as early as 1992. The outfit had bungee-type rubber cords that compressed the body’s joints when movement occurred. While these suits worked well with children with cerebral palsy, they only received the resistance needed when walking upright or sitting.

In 1994, another suit was created to address this problem. The newer suit was designed to adjust to numerous positions and body shapes. Some of the parts that composed the suit included a vest, shorts, knee pieces, and special shoes with a hook where bungee cords were attached. The placement of the bungee cords could assist or strengthen weak muscles and correct abnormal positions or movements whether the child was static or dynamic.

Euro-Peds

The Euro-Peds National Center for Intensive Pediatric Physical Therapy has operated in Pontiac, Michigan since 2001. This clinic is the first one in the United States to use suit therapy for patients of cerebral palsy, brain injury, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. Over a thousand Euro-Peds patients have used the center’s therapy suit, and at least four clinics have opened since.

Euro-Peds has its own patented therapy suit, which is closer to the 1994 prototype with some modifications. The Euro-Peds therapy suit has the following modifications:

  • Padding around neck and shoulder region for comfort
  • Leg access for convenience
  • Velcro strapping at hips and chest for size flexibility
  • Soft material loops sewn over the suit for band attachment
Benefits of Suit Therapy

In addition to strengthening weak muscles and correcting positions, the therapy suit also benefits the vestibular system. The suit applies pressure to specific joints that awaken the sensory and proprioceptive organs in these joints. Normal sensory information is sent to the brain and back, thus breaking the cycle of abnormal brain information caused by the brain injury and boosting the efficiency of the brain.

The Case of Austin Hammer

Austin Hammer, at the time 18 years old, is one of the Euro-Peds patients that have successfully used the Euro-Peds therapy suit to deal with this condition. Hammer suffers from spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, which causes tight muscles in the lower half of his body, specifically his legs, pelvis, and hips. This type of cerebral palsy is common, with around 10,000 infants born annually in the United States diagnosed with the condition.

Hammer previously had a double osteotomy operation, where his femur bones were cut, and the tendons were reattached. After a nine-week rehabilitation session at Mary Free Bed, Hammer still had issues with his posture. The young man previously attempted to use the Adeli Suit, but he needed additional help when his bones outgrew his muscles.

Hammer has taken physical and suit therapy sessions at Euro-Peds for four hours a day, five days a week, for three weeks. After that, Hammer will need to rest his body, while his therapists determine whether he will continue with more therapies and exercises. The sessions will allow him to recover his position and posture. While Hammer does not expect to leave behind his wheelchair, he mainly uses the suit to improve his ability to walk short distances.

Restrictions and Costs

Patients considering the Euro-Peds therapy suit should be aware of several factors. Not every patient qualifies for the therapy suit, particularly those suffering from the following:

  • Extreme scoliosis
  • Strong dislocation of the hips
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain heart diseases
  • Complicated systemic disorders

People with minor hip dislocations, liver or kidney diseases, or epilepsy can qualify for the therapy, but with close monitoring and modified suits. Patients can range from ages 2-18, and the younger they are, the more results will improve.

In addition, patients should consider the costs. Experimental therapies like these are not covered by insurance, and a three-week session of suit therapy costs $6,400. Euro-Peds provides an $800 scholarship, which Hammer has received in the past.