Once your child receives a cerebral palsy diagnosis, it’s important to start treatments and therapies as soon as possible. Early intervention may allow your child to minimize the symptoms of the disorder and help improve their quality of life.
This list is intended as a brief introduction to each topic. For more information about specific treatments and therapies, talk to your child’s doctors.
Not all children with cerebral palsy require medications, though many do. Today, there are many medications that can help in the management of a variety of conditions such as seizures, spasticity or gastrointestinal issues. These medications may be delivered orally, via a feeding tube or through an implanted pump.
Surgical intervention is normally a last resort when medications, therapy or other interventions fail to have a positive impact. Surgical intervention may be necessary to loosen tight muscles and release fixed joints (contractures) or to bring relief to spasm and help with orthopedic issues such as hip dislocation.
Physical therapy is a branch of medicine directed at the rehabilitation of muscles and the musculoskeletal system. It is a cornerstone of cerebral palsy treatment. Physical therapy usually begins in the first few years of life or soon after a diagnosis is made. Physical therapy uses a variety of equipment and exercises to help patients achieve or improve abilities and mobility.
There is no standard therapy that works for every individual with cerebral palsy. Physical therapy programs use specific sets of exercises and activities based on a patient’s needs. The two most important goals are preventing weakening or deterioration of the muscles that aren’t being used (disuse atrophy) and keeping muscles from becoming fixed in a rigid, abnormal position (contracture). Early detection and management of muscular problems is crucial in early childhood development.
Speech therapy is the treatment of communication disorders, regardless of the origin. Therapists that work in the field of communication disorders are known as speech therapists and speech-language pathologists. Therapy may consist of a series of exercises and drills designed to strengthen the muscles involved in speech and swallowing and improve oral motor skills. Speech therapy may also include sign language and the use of picture symbols or augmented and alternative communication devices.
Occupational therapy (OT) and rehabilitation deals primarily with muscles responsible for:
Wrist, hand, and finger movements
Tongue movement and swallowing reflexes
Occupational therapists are trained to help patients acquire or improve daily living skills needed for self-care, work, and play. Occupational therapy uses a regiment of exercises, adaptive equipment, and training to help a child realize goals and independence.
Also referred to as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy can improve behavioral issues, provide encouragement, improve self-esteem, reinforce positive messages and stop negative behaviors.
Also called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NES), this therapy pulses electricity into the motor nerves to stimulate contraction in selective muscle groups. Many studies have demonstrated that NES appears to increase range of motion and muscular strength.
This therapy involves the application of electrical stimulation at intensities too low to stimulate muscle contraction. Threshold electrical stimulation is controversial. Studies have not been able to demonstrate its effectiveness or any significant improvement with its use.
Some children developed cerebral palsy as the result of brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Proponents of hyperbaric oxygen therapy propose that the brain tissue surrounding the damaged area can be “awakened” by forcing high concentrations of oxygen into the body under greater than atmospheric pressure.
As parents, it’s our jobs to become knowledgeable about as many different treatment and therapy options for our children as possible. However, no amount of research can replace the advice of a qualified doctor. Determining the right combination of treatments and therapies is best achieved through close collaboration between yourself and your child’s doctors and caregivers.