'Magic therapy helps improve use of hands with hemiplegia'

Lara Bradley, a trainee magician who is now making more use of her right hand

Ten children in cloaks and hats are tying knots in rope, seemingly at the flick of a wrist.

They are taking part in a series of pilot experiments conjured up by magicians, therapists and researchers at Guy's Hospital London.

All the children have hemiplegia - a weakening or paralysis of one side of their body.

And they are hoping to pick up tricks from magicians of the world renowned Magic Circle to help refine the movement of their hands.

The Breathe Magic camp involves 60 hours of intensive training over ten days.

Start Quote

If I hold a really big ball like a football I can hold it fantastically.... like a guy who has a a normal hand”

End Quote Jack Cardwell, aged 8 Magic trainee

Lara Bradley is one of the trainee magicians. She is 11 and about to start secondary school.

She is keen to be able to pick up healthy snacks from the top shelves at the shop on her way home - something she had difficulty doing independently before camp started.

Red ball trick

But now she finds it much easier to reach up and grip even heavy objects and put them in her shopping basket.

The magic involved was a red ball trick which she demonstrates with the flourish of an accomplished magician.

She plucks a ball seemingly out of thin air, and then rolling it around in her palm it appears to multiply.

Practising this by turning the ball around in her hand over and over again, has helped her build up strength in her hand and made it easier to grip things, she says.

And the stretching movements involved in a rope trick have helped her use her arm to get things from high shelves.

Jack, aged 8, is now able to pick up his friend's bike.


  • Is a weakness and lack of control or paralysis affecting one side of the body
  • It can result from an injury to the brain before, during or soon after birth
  • 1 in 4000 children in the UK are born with hemiplegia
  • Other children acquire hemiplegia through childhood strokes and accidents affecting the brain

He said: "One of the things that magic camp helped me with was my grasp.... If I hold a really big ball like a football I can hold it fantastically.... like a guy who has a a normal hand."

'Using both hands'

Breathe Magic Camps are put together by Breathe Arts Health Research and Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, designed in collaboration with Magic Circle magicians, therapists, clinicians and researchers.

Working together, magicians and occupational therapists came up with specially adapted tricks which incorporate within them the rehabilitation exercises therapists often ask children with hemiplegia to do.

"Breathe Magic camp is about learning to use two hands, because a lot of the things we do in everyday life need two hands.

"An example is using a knife and fork - it may be quite acceptable to ask someone to help you with that as a child with hemiplegia.

"But if you are a little bit older and on your first date, you are not going to want to ask your date to cut up your food for you," says Amarlie Moore, occupational therapist at the Evelina Children's Hospital, London.

Many children are born with hemiplegia, so for children who are 11 years old repeating the same exercises for years over and over again can become a little boring, she says.

Jack's dad, Will Cardwell, agrees. "As a parent you can get your children to do exercises... but it is boring and it is very difficult for them to stay motivated over a prolonged time.

"Magic camp is just fantastic because it is fun to do."

Dr Dido Green, reader in rehabilitation at Oxford Brookes University is looking at the evidence behind the project.

She would like to see if the 60 hours of training at the camp lead the children to move their hands with better synchrony.

Jack and Will Cardwell explain some of the differences the 10 days of magic training have made to them

In this pilot study she is looking at the speed at which information from the nerves gets to the muscles in the hands then combining this with data on the timing of the movement of both hands, by using brain imaging techniques and movement studies.

'Impressing people'

Data collected before the first camps in 2010 show that before magic therapy, the children were only able to perform 25% of daily activities, such as opening a bottle, using their two hands.

"At the end of the camp they were able to perform 93% of activities independently, using two hands," says Dr Green, who used a standard list of everyday tasks in her measurements.

The team are now collating the data they have collected on 43 children and will be studying the outcomes in detail.

Karin Bishop from the College of Occupational Therapists says: "Using magic as occupational therapy has real potential to benefit children with a range of motor conditions such as cerebral palsy.

"It is the perfect medium to improve children's motor skills, functional ability and confidence. It is important that there will be clear measurable outcomes from this work and we look forward to seeing it progress."

For Lara, the camp also allowed her to meet other people with hemiplegia.

And when her training finished she had some unexpected tricks up her sleeve.

"The thing I enjoyed most after magic camp was going back to school and impressing people. Before I found it difficult. I would show them something I could do and they would say 'oh I can already do that'.

"Now I show them a magic trick and they are like, 'wow, how did you do that?!' And I've never felt that kind of pride.."

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