Being diagnosed with cerebral palsy or having a loved one diagnosed with it is a frightening and overwhelming experience. Not only because there is currently no cure but also because of the various types of treatments required to manage it.
Cerebral palsy is a neuromuscular disorder that starts very early in life and usually requires different treatments to manage it. However, due to the potentially harmful side effects of some treatments and medications, parents and guardians are often encouraged to consider low-risk, alternative therapies for managing the condition.
So today, we’ll take a look at cerebral palsy, why alternative therapies are helpful, and some of the best alternative therapy options to try.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
As mentioned earlier, Cerebral palsy is a neuromuscular disorder that is caused by an injury to the brain in infancy or even before birth. It is the most common childhood physical disability that might affect movement, posture, communication, sensory perception, and other essential functions.
The exact cause(s) of cerebral palsy is unknown, but the disorder occurs when there is an impairment or abnormal development in the parts of the brain that control motor function.
Here are some of the injuries or damage that can cause cerebral palsy:
- Preterm birth
- Infections of the central nervous system
- Severe head injuries
- Lack of blood and oxygen flow to the brain
Although cerebral palsy is often not diagnosed until ages 2–3, its symptoms are usually first noticed in infants, as they’re often slow to reach developmental milestones. Some of the symptoms of CP include sloppy or exaggerated reflexes, spasticity, audio and/or visual impairments, a learning disorder, respiratory issues, bone abnormalities, etc.
How Does Alternative Therapy Help Cerebral Palsy?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a term for medical practices or products that are not part of standard or conventional medical practices. Although CAM is a constantly evolving healthcare system, it lacks scientific evidence and has not been generally accepted by the medical community.
Alternative therapies are used alongside traditional medical care to enhance its effect or alleviate its side effects. Since each case of cerebral palsy is unique, the therapy plan should be based on a recommendation by the child’s physician and their mobility limitations or individual symptoms.
Why are Alternative Therapies for CP Appealing to Parents?
- Belief in natural treatments
- Testimonies of others
- Excitement about a new treatment method
- Less risk of harmful side effects
- Less medication and no surgical involvement
Alternative treatment methods have numerous advantages. Natural or alternative therapies have few side effects; hence, they are often recommended to CP patients as they help to improve speech, mobility, and overall performance.
Types of Alternative Therapies
Below are some common complementary and alternative therapies that have been used or tried by parents who have kids with cerebral palsy.
1. Music Therapy
According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy is an evolving, proof-based use of rhythm and sound to establish a therapeutic connection between a CP patient and their therapist. And since CP problems are related to loss of cognitive, motor, and speech function, music can help to improve these areas as well as the overall performance of the child.
Benefits of Music Therapy for CP Treatment
Music therapies can help to improve the following areas:
- Motor skills
- Language processing
- Communication skills
- Motor function
- Relaxation and Motivation
- Auditory responses
Music therapy is an effective method for improving cognitive functions as well as managing other symptoms of CP. During music therapy, kids and their music therapists engage in a range of fun, interactive activities. This often includes singing, dancing, composing songs, playing instruments, and listening to certain words or sounds.
Acupuncture is a type of alternative therapy that’s been used to treat children and adults with CP for several decades by Chinese practitioners. It can significantly improve muscle hypertonicity and neurological functioning when used alongside traditional treatment methods.
Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into the body at precisely defined, specific entry points to reduce inflammation, promote normal blood flow, or correct disruptions in harmony.
The needles are placed in specific areas on the fingers, arms, alms, ears, scalp, feet, and legs to restore internal balance in these areas.
Benefits of Acupuncture for CP Treatment
The benefits of acupuncture include the following:
- Improve arms, hands, and legs movement
- Improved hearing
- Speech recovery
- Improved voluntary movement
- Improved balance and coordination
- Reduced pain and inflammation
Acupuncture therapy is usually given 2–3 times weekly for a total of about 10 sessions.
Hippotherapy has been used to treat children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities for over 60 years. It is mostly used to enhance muscle tone and mobility. And contrary to its name, hippotherapy has nothing to do with hippos but rather with horses.
Hippotherapy also called "equine therapy" involves riding on a horse and relying on the natural movement of the horse to improve posture and mobility. Theoretically, staying mounted on a horse can help the bones, joints, and muscles become properly aligned.
Benefits of Hippotherapy for CP Treatment
Hippotherapy can help to improve the following functions:
- Impaired balance and coordination
- Poor posture and mobility
- Abnormal muscle tone
- Impaired limb function
Aside from its physical benefits, hippotherapy can also be used to improve the communication and mental health of people with cerebral palsy.
4. Aquatic Therapy
Aquatic therapy is highly beneficial to kids and patients with severe forms of CP or mobility limitations. Compared to conventional physical treatment, water-based therapy is a fun, less overwhelming alternative.
Aquatic treatment involves performing a range of exercises in the pool while being guided by a therapist or an aquatics instructor. Such activities include stride jumps, wall-and-sit kicking, length swimming, jumping jacks, and shallow-water tuck jumps.
Benefits of Aquatic Therapy for CP Treatment
This type of therapy can be used to improve:
- Muscle strength
- Respiratory function
For kids with cerebral palsy and their parents, it can be very challenging to undergo various extensive, expensive, and exhaustive therapies—only to discover that the child’s condition isn’t improving. Fortunately, alternative therapies are evolving for CP treatment in a way that is centered on the individual and their general limitations.
All the alternative therapies listed above are highly effective and can be used alongside traditional treatments. Using any of them can give you a better chance at managing and combating cerebral palsy and its symptoms. However, since each case of CP is unique, you need to first consult with your doctor to determine which is the best fit for your specific condition.