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Hemiplegia refers to weakness or paralysis down one side of the body. Another term associated with hemiplegia is “hemiparesis”. The specific definition of hemiparesis means partial weakness, while hemiplegia means complete paralysis. However, many professionals and publications often use the term “hemiplegia” to cover both hemiplegia and hemiparesis. We will also use the overall term “hemiplegia” to cover both types of presentation. Hemiplegia is caused by damage to the brain. There are many causes of damage to the brain that may result in hemiplegia.

Congenital Hemiplegia: Congenital hemiplegia can happen at any point when the child is in the womb, during birth or shortly after birth. Premature birth or a traumatic delivery can be a cause of congenital hemiplegia. However, the cause of congenital hemiplegia is often unknown and there may be no sign of hemiplegia until the child is several months old. Congenital hemiplegia is a presentation of Cerebral Palsy.

CIMT child playing with a bead train toy with their personal physiotherapist

Acquired Hemiplegia: Hemiplegia can be acquired at any stage in a child’s development and could be caused by:

  • Childhood stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Seizures
  • Infections affecting the brain
  • Hemispherectomy

Hemiplegia causes weakness down one side of the body, affecting the arm and sometimes the leg. Limbs affected by hemiplegia may have:

  • Weakness
  • Altered tone (“spasticity” or low tone / “floppy”)
  • Reduced voluntary movement
  • Reduced co-ordination
  • Reduced motor skills
  • Reduced functional use

When the upper limb (arm & hand) is affected by hemiplegia it may become difficult to use the arm and hand in everyday life. Often tasks are much easier to complete with the stronger side and a child will learn to compensate by using their stronger side more and their affected side less. If an arm affected by hemiplegia is not used in everyday life it may become even weaker. Constraint induced movement therapy can be an effective treatment for reversing this learned non-use and allowing the affected arm the chance to become stronger.

Treatment for Hemiplegia: Constraint induced movement therapy has been shown to improve upper limb function in hemiplegia when there is some movement already present (“hemiparesis”). Constraint induced movement therapy can be used to treat children with hemiplegia, regardless of the cause of hemiplegia, the age in which they developed the hemiplegia, or how long they have had hemiplegia.

Constraint induced movement therapy is an effective treatment for hemiplegia by providing a prolonged and intensive period of time to focus solely on the affected side under the supervision of a trained therapist. Improvements have been shown to be meaningful and long lasting. If your child has hemiplegia and you would like to discuss CIMT further, contact us for a free telephone consultation with one of our specialist CIMT therapists.

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