Alternative and Complementary Therapies
for cerebral palsy
Many children with CP use some form of alternative or complementary medicine, and although there are reports of some benefits, these therapies have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of CP.
Such therapies include hyperbaric oxygen therapy, special clothing worn during resistance exercise training, certain forms of electrical stimulation, and specialized learning strategies. Also, dietary supplements, including herbal products, may interact with other products or medications a child with CP may be taking or have unwanted side effects of their own. Families of children with CP should always discuss alternative therapies with their doctor.
Hippotherapy simply means treatment with the aid of a horse. Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input.
Why are Horses Used?
- While walking, the horse provides a rhythmic motion which stimulates both anterior and posterior swinging movements
- Movements of the horse encourage the rider to achieve a proper balance and posture
- The horse provides the rider a large spectrum of sensory and motor input
A Hippotherapy team consists of a therapist, horse trainer, and riding instructors walking on both sides of the horse and, unlike therapeutic horseback riding (where specific riding skills are taught), the movement of the horse itself is the treatment strategy. Hippotherapy is a treatment whose effectiveness has been confirmed in a large patient group with physical or mental disabilities when applied by an experienced therapist. Equine-assisted therapy is being used widely in many countries of the world.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
When using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), the patient enters a specialized room or a glass chamber designed for manipulating air pressure. The room is sealed and the air pressure is changed to ensure the air that the patient breathes is 100% oxygen. For reference, air typically contains approximately 20% oxygen. The body needs oxygen to heal and with a higher oxygen intake, damaged or disabled cells can be regenerated or may even become functional again.
Does it Really Work?
Currently HBOT is a controversial treatment for those with cerebral palsy. Within the last decade, many studies have been conducted, but the results have varied.
Electrical Muscle Stimulation Treatments
Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) refers to a group of treatments that use electrical current to stimulate nerve endings, to reverse damage to the patient’s nervous system. When combined with physical therapy, research has shown that EMS can increase walking speed, reduce muscle spasticity and improve overall motor function.
Types of Electrical Muscle Stimulation
- Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) – Also known as Therapeutic Electrical Stimulation (TES) or Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). This form of treatment is usually provided by a medical practitioner. Unlike Threshold Electrical Stimulation, NMES uses a higher voltage in shorter increments, with the aim of stimulating muscles to contract.
- Threshold Electrical Stimulation – This treatment does not induce muscle contractions. Instead, a lower voltage is used over a long period of time.
How Effective is EMS?
Although research is promising regarding the use of EMS for cerebral palsy patients, most research suggests that it is best used alongside other standard treatments. Typically, EMS is combined with exercise or some other form of physical activity or physical therapy, depending on the child’s muscle condition.
The Adeli Suit
TheraSuit, AdeliSuit and PediaSuit were created from a prototype developed for the Russian space program in 1971. The suit was developed to maintain muscle tone in a weightless environment, like a spaceship. It uses a system of elastic bands and pulleys that create artificial forces which the body can work against in order to prevent muscular atrophy. The Adeli suit treatment (AST) has been proposed as an intensive exercise protocol to help manage CP and other neuromuscular disorders.
Insurance companies label this therapy as experimental and investigational for the treatment of CP because there is inadequate evidence as to the effectiveness at this time.
Acupuncture has been widely used in China to alleviate some CP symptoms, such as pain and motion disorders. The theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) deems that acupuncture is thought to correct the imbalance of energy in the body by stimulating various points. Research has shown that acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy, and it can also relieve pain. Researchers don’t fully understand how acupuncture works, but speculate that it may aid the body’s natural pain-killing chemicals, or it may affect how you release chemicals that regulate blood pressure and flow.
Acupuncture has increasingly been integrated into pediatric health care, and although numerous studies have been published, the safety and efficacy with patients with cerebral palsy is still uncertain.