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Cerebral palsy: can regular exercise through RaceRunning improve health and mobility?

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Cerebral palsy is the most common serious physical disability in children, affecting around 2,000 babies born in the UK each year.1,2 Children with the condition develop stiff muscles, and bone and joint deformities – which can make it challenging for them to take part in physical activities. Dr Marietta van der Linden at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and Dr Jennifer Ryan of Brunel University are leading a pilot study to investigate the potential benefits of regular exercise on the health and mobility of young people with moderate-to-severe cerebral palsy. Their results could lead to improvements quality of life and independence for children – and reduce their risk of developing diseases in adulthood associated with inactivity.

Action Medical Research and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Charitable Trust are together funding this study

How are children’s lives affected now?

Cerebral palsy, which is usually caused by damage to a baby’s brain before, during or soon after birth, is a lifelong condition where children develop stiff muscles, and bone and joint deformities that can affect their muscle control and movement.

“A child with cerebral palsy may have difficulties walking and so can find it challenging to take part in physical activities – and this can lead to a lack of exercise that often starts early on in childhood and persists throughout their lives,” says Dr van der Linden.  

Low levels of physical activity may impact on a child’s everyday mobility and quality of life. It could also increase their risk of developing certain diseases – such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes – that are more common in people with cerebral palsy.

“Finding new ways to increase physical activity in children with cerebral palsy could have long-lasting positive effects on their health and wellbeing,” says Dr Ryan.

How could this research help?

“Our goal is to find out whether RaceRunning is a feasible exercise option to provide benefits for muscle function, mobility and long-term health of children with moderate-to-severe cerebral palsy,” says Dr Ryan.

The team is exploring whether regular exercise with RaceRunning – an innovative sport for people with disabilities – can help improve the lives of children with cerebral palsy who are unable to walk independently or propel a wheelchair.

“We hope that these custom-built running bikes can enable children to take part in aerobic activities that can help improve their overall fitness,” says Dr van der Linden.

The pilot study will involve 25 children and young people with cerebral palsy who will take part in a one-hour weekly training for 24 weeks. The results will indicate if participants find this enjoyable and suggest if it has any positive health benefits.

“If our results are promising, they will inform the design of a larger study involving participants in the UK and abroad,” says Dr Ryan.


1. Wimalasundera, N. & Stevenson, V.L., Cerebral palsy. BMJ Practical Neurology 2016; 16:184-194.

2. Office for National Statistics. Overview of the UK population: November 2018 [website accessed 12 Dec 2018]





Project Leader Dr Marietta L van der Linden, MSc PhD and Dr Jennifer M Ryan, BSc PG Dip PhD
Project Team Dr Pelly Koufaki, BSc PhDDr, Nicola Theis, BSc MSc PhD Dr Nana K Anokye BA MSc PhDDr Shaun Phillips BSc MSc PhD
Project Location Centre for Health, Activity and Rehabilitation Research, Queen Margaret University and Department of Clinical Sciences, Brunel University
Project Location Other School of Sport and Exercise, University of Gloucestershire, Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh
Project duration 1 year
Date awarded 23 November 2018
Project start date 1 April 2019
Project end date

1 May 2023

Grant amount £72,422
Grant code GN2767


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