There are obvious benefits to adaptive bicycles, including increased opportunity for exercise. Children of all abilities benefit from exercise, as it increases cardiovascular health, muscle tone, bone/joint health, stamina, balance and coordination. For children with disabilities (who may have differential requirements such as postural support), commercial bikes from big-box stores may be inaccessible for reasons of low muscle tone, poor coordination or cognitive disabilities. Adaptive bikes may have heavy-duty training wheels, extra-wide frames, trunk reinforcements, head support, leg or hand straps, and steering assistance to help these children engage with physical movement.
A precursor to walking
Young children with disabilities may not have not yet fully developed the ability to walk. In some cases, cycling helps as a precursor to walking: when their legs go through the repetitive motions of cycling, the hips, knees and ankles have patterns of muscle activation and motor control similar to walking, laying the groundwork for a more normal gait. Each leg goes through a separate motion, helping to train their extremities to dissociate (or work independently of each other). Adaptive bikes can also help children move and propel themselves forward even when they may not have walking ability yet.
Circulation and Blood Flow
Biking helps the body’s muscles contract and relax, stimulating circulation and blood flow.
Range of Motion
Bicycling is a great way to work on a child’s range of motion. Being outside provides greater engagement, so exercise may be better tolerated than in a therapy gym setting. Furthermore, range of motion is key to the activities of daily living, including dressing, bathing and toileting. Increasing a child’s functional range of motion allows them to more easily complete tasks needed for day-to-day life.
As children ride a bike, they move their lower extremities through a series of motions that flexes, extends and stretches the muscles. Muscles must be fully extended to grow in tandem with bone. If the muscle is not properly stretched, disabling and permanent contractures can result. Cycling can help to prevent these contractures from occurring.
Riding a bike assists children in developing a tolerance for sitting upright. Because it is fun and engaging, it can be better tolerated than sitting on the edge of a mat or bed. This can translate into better attention at school as the child uses less energy on maintaining posture and more on academics. Cycling also strengthens gross motor control (including trunk stabilization and balance) over time.
Fun and social activity
An adaptive bicycle allows a child to be more mobile, which in turn allows them to explore their environment and have fun. They also make rehabilitation more interesting, which can make therapeutic activity more interesting.
Cognition and hand/eye coordination
Physical motion and cognition are critically linked. By exploring their environment, children develop a sense of how they interact with the world, as well as a sense of physical consequence. As children learn how to perceive and visually judge their surroundings through movement, it is crucial to provide a safe avenue by which children can explore their environment. As the child continues to cycle, they can develop better spatial awareness, allowing them to maneuver the bi- or tri-cycle more independently.
Social acceptance and emotional health
Children who are able to participate in group activities such as biking with family and peers, children can develop a positive sense of self and self-esteem in an environment of inclusion.
Until Next Time,