Music therapy can improve upper body function in children with severe cerebral palsy, a study in Spain has found.
The study, “Neurologic music therapy in upper-limb rehabilitation in children with severe bilateral cerebral palsy: a randomized controlled trial,” was published in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.
The potential of music as a therapy has been widely recognized in different fields. Music can help connect motor and cognitive skills to facilitate learning and enhance emotional experiences.
The rhythm produced by musical instruments can help optimize several aspects of motor control such as synchronization of movement and control over muscle activation patterns.
Nonetheless, this type of therapeutic intervention may be challenging in children with severe communicative, cognitive, and psychological impairments.
Spanish researchers evaluated music therapy’s impact during a 32-week period on gross motor and upper limb function in children with severe bilateral cerebral palsy.
A total of 18 children who met the inclusion criteria participated in the study at the La Cruz Roja Cerebral Palsy Center in Valencia, Spain. For the first 16 weeks, nine children underwent standard physical therapy plus music therapy, and nine children received standard physical therapy alone.
When the 16 weeks were finished, the groups switched.
Music therapy sessions occurred once a week and included a team of two music therapists. The children played small percussion instruments, a Spanish guitar, a keyboard, and drums during the sessions.
For 10 percent of each session, children were asked to interact with the instruments to generate rhythmic music patterns alongside music played by the therapists. Afterward, they were asked to perform specific repetitive task with the instruments with increasing difficulty. These tasks were designed to stimulate and guide movement while challenging upper body muscles.
“The music was always live and customized according to each patient’s needs and preferences”, the researchers wrote.
In the beginning, researchers did not find significant differences in motor function between the two groups. During the study, no changes were reported in the control group in any of the evaluated features.
But after completing 16 weeks of treatment, children in the intervention group showed significant improvements in locomotor function and in the “arm and hand position” and “activities” sections of the Chailey Levels of Ability test. This test assesses the functional skills of children with severe cerebral palsy.
Although not significantly, other domains including “load-bearing,” “head movement,” and “leg position” also showed improvements when compared to initial scoring. These positive effects were found to persist for more than four months after music therapy had been discontinued and the children only performed standard physiotherapy.
“Optimized and combined intervention of therapeutic instrumental music performance can improve the upper-limb function in children with severe bilateral CP,” the authors wrote.
“Music therapy is a useful tool in rehabilitation and its positive effects remain four months after completing the treatment,” they added.
A recent study also suggested that playing a musical instrument can help children with cerebral palsy to improve hand movement and strengthen their sensorimotor skills.