Using DTI to understand muscle contracture in children with Cerebral Palsy

A new study by Prof Rob Herbert and his team is investigating muscle contracture in children with cerebral palsy.

Contracture is a stiffening of muscles, even when the muscle is passive. It is not yet known whether contracture is a result of changes in the muscle, changes in the associated tendon, or a combination of both.

Around 53 per cent of children with cerebral palsy have contractures at the lower leg, which prevent normal joint mobility and can result in deformity. Understanding the mechanism that causes contracture will help to guide intervention strategies.

The motor impairment team, which includes Dr Bart Bolsterlee and PhD student Arkiev D’Souza, is using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to determine the changes in muscle architecture that accompany contracture. DTI is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique typically used to examine the structure of the brain. Recent advancements in technology have allowed researchers to apply this technology to muscles to measure muscle structure in unprecedented detail.

While the technology was initially developed to examine neural connectivity of the brain, over the last decade it has been increasingly applied to study skeletal muscle structure. Using DTI, the team will compare the architecture of calf muscles in 20 children with cerebral palsy and 20 of their healthy peers.

The MRI scan takes approximately 45 minutes and the data is used to generate a three-dimensional model of the muscles in the lower leg. Differences in muscle structure between healthy children and children with contracture will help identify the mechanism causing the condition. This information may help to create new techniques to overcome the difficulties caused by contracture.

If you are interested in learning more about this study or are interested in participating, you can find more information here.

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