Cerebral palsy is a neuromuscular disorder that currently has no cure. However, there are a number of treatment options available to help your child improve their daily life.
Treatment Goals for Cerebral Palsy
Treatment will depend upon the type cerebral palsy your child has, as well as the severity of the condition. Most pediatricians will create a “treatment goal” plan, individualized to meet your child’s needs. Although each treatment play may differ, the general goals of a treatment plan generally include a way to:
- Help to manage medical conditions
- Help manage and control pain
- Counseling to help social interactions
- Help promote independence
- Help with eating, bathing, and dressing
- Help with optimizing mobility
- Help with education and learning
Certain medications help children with cerebral palsy to control symptoms, which can include muscle spasms, uncontrollable limb movements, and seizures. The most common medications prescribed for cerebral palsy include:
Keep in mind that although medication can be successful, some children will not benefit enough from it, and in these instances, surgery may be the next option.
Surgery can help people with cerebral palsy reduce spasms, increase flexibility, and gain more control of muscles and limbs. However, it’s important to note that surgery isn’t an appropriate option for every child with cerebral palsy, and it also comes with risks.
After surgery, most children will need to be able to participate in post-operative physical therapy and rehabilitation. Sometimes, this isn’t an option for some children. Your physician will do a complete physical examination to determine if your child qualifies for surgery.
The most common types of surgery for cerebral palsy is on the upper extremities of the body, such as the arms and shoulders. Yet, it’s not unusual for a cerebral palsy patient to undergo surgery on feet, ankles, legs, hips, wrists, arms, or shoulders, as well as on muscles, tendons, bones, or nerves (depending on treatment goals). Each individual’s circumstance is unique, and his or her treatment will be unique, as well.
Surgery will on take place if the benefits of it will outweigh the risks that come along with it. Some surgeries carry the potential to create serious medical complications such as infection, bleeding, and loss of functions.
In turn, it’s important to remember that surgery will not magically cure your child’s cerebral palsy, but it can help to make the disorder more manageable, which can greatly help in daily activities, school, and more.
Complementary and Alternative Treatment Options
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is another option that many parents opt for to approach treatment in a more holistic, natural way.
The most common types of CAM treatments for cerebral palsy patients include:
Energy Therapy: Energy therapy entails manipulating the child’s energy fields in an attempt to promote well-being.
Movement Therapy: Movement therapy teaches body movements that help promote spiritual, physical emotional, and mental balance.
Mind and Body Techniques: Mind and body techniques include massage, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, guided meditations, guided imagery, yoga, breathing exercise, and more.
Aqua Therapy: Aqua therapy (also known as aquatic or water therapy) promotes physical function and control, muscle tone improvement, well-being, confidence, independence, and more.
Different forms of therapy can provide physical, mental, social, and academic benefits for children with cerebral palsy. If started early enough in a child’s life, many forms of therapy for cerebral palsy can reduce impairment and the risks of developing other conditions associated with cerebral palsy.
Therapy is usually combined with other treatments, such as drug therapy, surgery, and assistive technology, which help benefit the child even further. When physicians determine the child’s medical goals, they can then develop an individualized therapy plan.
It’s important to note that therapy can also be extremely beneficial to parents and caregivers.For example, nutritional therapy can help people understand specific dietary needs, while behavioral therapy can help teach parents the benefits of positive reinforcement.
The following forms of therapy are the most common types for children (and sometimes adults) with cerebral palsy.
Physical therapy is one of the most important forms of therapy for children with cerebral palsy. In fact, most physicians recommend physical therapy for all children with cerebral palsy, regardless of how minor or severe the disorder is.
Goals of Physical Therapy for Children With Cerebral Palsy
Children diagnosed with cerebral palsy will have various degrees of muscle control, balance, and mobility, depending upon how severe the disorder is. Physical therapy helps with these issues by assisting children with balance, posture, crawling, climbing, walking, and muscle strength exercises.
In addition, physical therapy helps children with cerebral palsy to:
- Overcome physical limitation obstacles
- Increase independence
- Help expand range of motions
- Build muscle tone
- Decrease the chances of bone deformity
- Learn about adaptive equipment and how to use them
- Increase fitness, flexibility, balance, and posture
- Reduce physical discomfort and pain
Occupational therapy helps children with cerebral palsy work on their functional performances while they are at school, home, in the community, and later on, at work. This form of therapy helps children successfully carry out tasks needed to be done each day.
A typical day of occupational therapy consists of the child being trained and guided by a therapist who helps him/her work on function exercises that will help with daily tasks. The child’s current abilities, as well as limitations, will be taken into account in order to create a customized goal chart.
Children with cerebral palsy often have trouble forming words correctly. Speech therapy aims to help children understand the language better and assist in helping them with communication.
A speech and language pathologist helps find ways that the child can communicate successfully according to their own strengths and weaknesses. This can be done through sign language, cues, and with augmentative communication devices.
Goals are set for each child who attends speech therapy, which aims to help them communicate as effectively as possible.
Aqua therapy helps a child with cerebral palsy to improve muscle tone and physical functioning. It’s especially beneficial for children with cerebral palsy who are unable to walk without assistance.
Although aqua therapy helps with muscle tone and physical functioning, it’s different than physical therapy in that it takes place in water, typically a swimming pool, which combines both aerobic and anaerobic exercises in a way that’s easy for children with cerebral palsy to perform.
Massage therapy is extremely beneficial to children with cerebral palsy, as it improves muscle tone and function via skin stimulation.
Research indicates that massage therapy is a proven way to help children with cerebral palsy benefit therapeutically while helping the lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and circulatory system. It can also assist in helping children deal with chronic pain, a side effect for many people with cerebral palsy.
Play and Social Therapy
Regardless of disabilities, almost all children enjoy playtime, and play therapy helps them learn to express themselves better. Although playing is something that tends to be natural and comes easily for most children, those with cerebral palsy may find it a bit more challenging than others.
Play and social therapy gives parents, caregivers, and loved ones the opportunity to see how the child reacts and interacts in a social environment while playing. This can be extremely beneficial at home, especially for children who have difficulties with communication.
According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy helps to establish a promising and therapeutic relationship between the child in therapy and the instructor. Furthermore, children who participate in music therapy may experience an increase in learning, motivation, relaxation, and language skills.
Behavioral therapy helps children who are having difficulties with emotions and who act out through inappropriate behavior. Behavior therapy uses positive reinforcement to help change negative behavior to positive.
Thoughts, beliefs, and emotions are explored via behavioral therapy, which helps the therapist pinpoint difficult situations the child is enduring and in turn, help to empower and uplift the patient in order to change to appropriate behavior.
Chiropractic care is considered a complementary form of treatment for cerebral palsy, that focuses on disorders and issues within the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system. Many parents turn to chiropractic care after not finding success in traditional treatments. A number of studies indicate that many children with cerebral palsy who underwent chiropractic care saw dramatic, positive results.
Chiropractors focus on pain relief in patients, back and spine, feet, legs, hands, and neck. There are numerous different chiropractic techniques that can be used, and some children have experienced a difference after their first appointment and session.
Medical marijuana has become increasingly popular in treating a variety of medical issues, including many of the associated disorders of cerebral palsy. Studies indicate that medical marijuana can help relieve/reduce seizures, help with pain, reduce the severity of muscle spasms, and help with speech. Currently, not all states allow the use of medical marijuana, so it’s important to understand you state’s laws before trying it as treatment.