How Does the TheraSuit Method Work?
TheraSuit, thanks to its construction and improvements, is a breathable, soft, dynamic orthotic. Its major goal is to improve and change proprioception (pressure from the joints, ligaments, muscles), reduce client’s pathological reflexes, restore physiological muscle synergies (proper patterns of movement), and load the entire body with weight (process similar to a reaction of our muscles to the gravitational forces acting up us for 24 hours).
All of the above normalizes afferent vestibular-proprioceptive input (information arriving at the vestibular system). The vestibular system is a very important center, because it processes, integrates and sends back all the information that arrives from muscles, joints, tendons, etc. It influences muscle tone, balance and the position of the body in space. A correct proprioception (from the joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, joint’s capsule, etc.), leads to a correct alignment.
The vicious cycle can be interrupted and incorrect information is replaced by “new” correct information. A client (child) diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and other neuro-motor disorders requires hundreds of repetitions of any particular movement. We believe that as individuals, we all have a “magic” number. For example, a baby that is trying to push off the floor will need to repeat this movement a few hundred times in order to master it. Another one may need either more or fewer repetitions to learn the same skill. For the Cerebral Palsied child, however, this fairly low “magic” number grows to a thousand or more repetitions to learn and master new skills.
TheraSuit worn over a prolonged time will correct proprioception and accelerate the progress. Thanks to the TheraSuit and physical movement (therapy) the skills practiced will become more fluent and require less and less effort. Therefore, TheraSuit facilitates the development of new gross and fine motor skills like sitting, standing, and walking.
The TheraSuit Method has been proposed as an alternative to conventional physiotherapy and is based on a suit originally designed by the Russians for use by cosmonauts in space to minimize the effects of weightlessness. Suit therapy or Dynamic Proprioceptive Correction (DPC), has been popularized as a treatment modality in Poland and the United States and is focused on improving sensory stimulation and providing clients with the ability to stand and move through suit therapy resistance. This method allows a person to learn movement, standing posture, and balance strategies.
The TheraSuit Method consists of a vest, shorts, knee pads and specially adapted shoes with hooks and elastic cords that help tell the body how it is supposed to move in space. Therapists use the TheraSuit to hold the body in proper physical alignment. It serves as an exoskeleton that produces a vertically directed load of approximately thirty-three to eighty-eight pounds.
The suit increases the ability of the client to develop new motor plans, through repetitive strengthening exercises, creating the ability to provide artificial formation and reinforcement of appropriate movement and built strength at the same time. The TheraSuit Method increases deep proprioceptive awareness and positions the child in an ideal alignment during various activities. Re-establishing the correct postural alignment plays a crucial role in normalizing muscle tone, sensory and vestibular function. The suit aligns the body as close to normal as possible and the idea is to move body parts against resistance, thus improving muscle strength. An attached series of elastic cords provides compression to the body’s joints (tactile stimulation) and resistance to muscles when movement occurs. Through placement of the elastic cords, selected muscle groups can be exercised as the client moves limbs, thus, suit therapy is a form of controlled exercise against a resistance. Suit therapy improves endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination, improves bone density, and improves body and spatial awareness.
Along with the TheraSuit, an Ability Exercise Unit (AEU) is also sometimes used to assist children in functional activities along with strengthening exercises. The AEU is utilized to isolate and strengthen particular muscles or muscle groups to help gain muscle strength, flexibility, the range of motion, as well as functional skills. Children sometimes refer to the AEU as the “cage”.
The “cage” can also be referred to as a “spider cage” when the children have a belt hooked around their waist that is attached to the cage using bungee cords. Just enough assistance is given using the bungee cords to allow the child the security and balance needed to practice activities on their own. The cage also allows the child and therapist to work on activities that would normally take two or three therapists to work on, by acting as extra hands. Children are able to accomplish activities in the spider cage that they are not able to do without the assistance of the bungee cords. Depending on the way the bungee cords are placed, one can practice sitting, kneeling, quadruped, standing, strengthening exercises and many other activities.
The key element in an intensive plan is a strengthening and balance program established for the participant based on his/her individual needs, strengths and weaknesses. Increased strength is reflected in daily functional activities that usually follow or are combined with strengthening exercises. Elimination of pathological reflexes and establishing new, correct, and functional patterns of movements is of significant importance. A typical day of an intensive program may consist of warming up and deep tissue massage, tone reduction, and sensory integration techniques, decreasing pathological movement patterns, increasing active proper movement patterns, stretching/strengthening specific muscle groups responsible for functional movement, progressive resistance exercise, balance/coordination and endurance training, and transferring of functional activities and gait training. Thus, intensive therapy is ideal for those looking to accelerate their progress in developmental and functional skills.