Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month: The impact of sport for people with cerebral palsy

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness month, which is dedicated to the 17 million people diagnosed with cerebral palsy around the world. 

Cerebral palsy affects many people in the UK and is more common than some people realise. Around 2-2.5 in every 1000 children in the UK are born with cerebral palsy and there are an estimated 30,000 children with cerebral palsy in the UK. 

For Cerebral Palsy Sport, CP Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about cerebral palsy and the work carried out by the charity.  

CP Sport is the country’s leading national disability sports organisation improving the health and emotional wellbeing of children and adults with cerebral palsy through physical activity, and engaging the community in a number of programmes and interventions. 

It is well recognised that sport provides many benefits socially, physically and mentally and this March CP Sport is highlighting the impact sport can have on an individual’s day to day experience of cp as well. A number of members, ambassadors and athletes with cp have shared their personal experiences saying that regular exercise and developing strength can have a variety of effects for them, which include improved handwriting, reduced spasms, or helping them sit up unaided. Some said that lockdown and a drop off in regular activity has in some cases made their cp ‘worse’. CP Sport will be showcasing these personal insights throughout the month on social media.  

Image of Tegan Vincent-Cooke

Cerebral Palsy Sport is also commencing its celebrations of 20 years of the charity and will be sharing more about its journey over two decades and hearing first-hand accounts about the impact it has had for individuals and families involved in its programmes through participation, volunteering, fundraising and working for the charity.  

Cerebral palsy and physical activity 

Cerebral palsy is the most common form of physical disability in the world and affects muscle control, coordination and motor skills. In addition to a range of physical difficulties, many people with cerebral palsy report feelings of isolation and exclusion from activities which can impact on well-being and self-belief. 

People with cerebral palsy are significantly more likely to encounter barriers that can prevent them from accessing sport which can make them feel marginalised, isolated and disengaged from their peers and local community. Typical barriers include lack of accessibility and inclusive opportunities, lack of support and a shortfall of skills from professionals around enabling people with cerebral palsy to engage in sports. 

Those with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities might be very passionate about sports and enjoy watching and supporting a team, but may have had very few real opportunities to participate. As children they may have negative experiences of being excluded from taking part; or they are the last person to be picked or their participation is tokenistic which can leave them feeling isolated and excluded.

The inclusive work of CP Sport aims to address these disadvantages by enabling people to engage in a range of adapted activities that seek to maximise potential and improve skills and well-being. Every year CP Sport gives hundreds of children, young people and adults with cerebral palsy the chance to access physical activity and social interaction that is an important part of sport. All this is only achievable because of the kindness and generosity of organisations and individuals who support the charity.

 

The impact of Covid-19 

It is important to consider those who have felt too anxious, scared or unable to exercise during the pandemic, something many of us have been able to confidently keep doing or even start doing. Exercise has been consistently encouraged during the pandemic as an essential part of our health and wellbeing. However, for people with a disability like cerebral palsy this is not so simple. They may need specialist equipment, a coach to support them or may have being shielding.  

Evidence shows that disabled people’s lives have been the hardest hit by COVID-19. Accounting for two-thirds of the deaths from coronavirus, this is a national crisis for public health and one that is being felt most sharply by disabled people. It has led to many disabled people, who count for one in five of the population, feeling more fearful and ignored. *  

Lockdown has also highlighted the impact a decrease in exercise can have an individual’s cp. One member told us that less regular walking has cause an increase in ankle and hamstring pain when trying to walk any distance. Another member said;  

“I noticed after the first lockdown spending 12 weeks inside shielding and only using my chair a minimal amount, I really struggled to push my chair and my hand function was worse as I wasn’t used to using the muscles to that extent anymore. It took a good few months to build that back up”. 

Image of Sam James from Inclusfit
Image of CP Athlete RaceRunning

During lockdown CP Sport have continued to work hard to help keep people with cp active and connected through free virtual cafes and fitness classes, virtual challenges with expert coaches and speakers, and equipment rental services with ongoing support. 

The feedback from participants and families has been extremely encouraging;

“The opportunity to hire a RaceRunner was amazing. I would never have had the opportunity to try RaceRunning without this service and really picked up the hang of it after two hours!”

“Lucas has joined the virtual cafes which have been brilliant to meet up with other children with cp in a safe and welcoming environment.”

“Our daughter found her smile again and gained confidence from being part of an organisation that really cares.”

A full list of events can be found here.  

Following the announcement by the Prime Minister on 22nd February, CP Sport COO Adi Fawcett said;  

We were pleased to see the announcement from the Prime Minister on 22nd February setting out the roadmap towards the end of lockdown, and to see sport and physical activity featured during each of the 4 steps towards 21 June and the removal of all legal limits on social contact. We will continue with our planning towards the delivery of events on the ground, taking into account the government and national governing body advice and work with our partners to deliver events when it is safe and appropriate to do so. In the meantime, we will continue to encourage everyone to be active and stay socially connected through our virtual classes, cafes and events. We look forward to seeing everyone again and supporting our community in confidently returning to sport.” 

Image of Wheelchair Tennis player James Shaw

Support Cerebral Palsy Sport this March  

Help CP Sport to encourage more people with cp to be active at home and have the confidence to return to safe spaces after lockdown so they can enjoy all the social, emotional and physical benefits of sport whether that’s virtually or together.  

CP Sport are encouraging members of the public to get involved in ‘Twenty Miles This March’ and help the charity reach and encourage more children and young people with cerebral palsy into being physically active.    

Anyone can take part. 20 miles of running is the challenge for the month of March,  however participants can tailor it to suit them whether that’s walking, cycling, pushing or a going for a different distance. There is the whole month to complete it and for those people who are on Facebook they can simply join the event  Facebook group and follow the steps to start fundraising. Alternatively for those not on Facebook it’s easy to set up a Just Giving page or simply make a donation to CP Sport. There is also a ‘club’ on Strava here. Participants can get a free t-shirt and if they raise £200 or more, a medal.  

Green is the colour people recognise as being associated with cerebral palsy awareness so show your support this March by proudly wearing green.  

CP Sport are working in partnership with Scope for virtual cafes and the Bobath Centre for the Twenty Miles This March Fundraiser. This CP Awareness month Scope are talking about what living with CP is like in 2021, jobs, education, love, parenthood. Join the conversation on the online community #LetsTalkCP #CPAwarenessMonth


*Activity Alliance 2021 http://www.activityalliance.org.uk/news/6002-research-reveals-pandemics-true-impact-on-disabled-peoples-activity

Find cerebral palsy key facts and statistics here