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Treadmill Training for Toddlers with Neuromotor Delays


Infants who experience neuromotor delays because of prenatal complications or injuries at birth may get help from treadmill training, according to a University of Michigan researcher. Preliminary results indicate that toddlers with neuromotor delays can walk better and earlier when they participate in treadmill training.

Prenatal injuries can often result in neuromotor delays, which are impairments that involve the central nervous system and affect the ability to feel, move, use, or control certain parts of the body. Research shows that such delays are usually seen in premature infants but can also occur in those born within the normal range of gestation. Some of these injuries correct themselves or can be remedied, but on occasion toddlers are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or other serious conditions.

In the current study, which was conducted at the University of Michigan, Rosa Angula-Barroso, associate professor of movement science at the university’s School of Kinesiology, and her colleagues followed 15 infants who were at risk for neuromotor delays. During the two-year study the investigators tested changes in the toddlers physical activity and treadmill use in their homes. The toddlers’ parents helped their children to use the treadmill.

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Among the 15 children, six were diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The researchers evaluated the toddlers’ frequency of steps and the amount of toe-walking. For toddlers who were still not walking, the investigators contacted the parents to see if their children were walking by age 3.

Over the course of the study, the researchers found that the toddlers with neuromotor delays developed through time in a fashion parallel with normal children, although less so. Use of the treadmill was also associated with less toe-walking, indicating an improvement in foot placement.

Study results showed that the most improvement for children with or without a diagnosis of cerebral palsy was between 10 and 18 months. This indicates a critical intervention window of which clinicians, therapists, and parents should be aware when planning any type of interventional therapy for children at risk of neuromotor delays.

Angulo-Barroso noted that this treadmill trial was only a feasibility study, and that the positive results indicate more work should be done to determine how much treadmill training can help toddlers who have neuromotor delays. The next study has been planned and will explore how children respond to a formal treadmill intervention. Until more is known about this new therapeutic approach, Angulo-Barroso stressed that early intervention is “really, really critical,” and that parents should work with a physical therapist to see if their children may be good candidates for treadmill training.

University of Michigan news service, Feb. 22, 2010
T. van Batenburg-Eddes et al. Early Human Development 2008; 84(10): 659-65