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Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical practices, dating to China around 6000 BCE. Although it is considered an alternative form of treatment in the United States and additional studies are needed to determine its overall effectiveness, it can benefit children with cerebral palsy. When practiced by a licensed professional, acupuncture can manage pain and other symptoms.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a type of medical treatment performed by inserting tiny needles into certain areas of the skin. According to Chinese philosophy, when areas of the skin are penetrated, it helps to release the body’s life force, also known as the “qi” (pronounced “chee”). When the body’s life force is released, it’s said to relieve pain, help treat illnesses and improve disabilities.
According to the University of Minnesota, the “qi” is located throughout the body with focuses on particular areas, including:
- Body fluids
- Body limbs
- The body’s defense system
- Eating, drinking, and breathing
Acupuncturists concentrate on pressure points, or meridians, within the body to stimulate the qi. When a needle is inserted into the pressure point, the patient feels a little pain and will feel qi moving throughout the meridians. When qi reaches problem areas within the body, it can help heal the deficiencies.
Acupuncture and Cerebral Palsy
Acupuncture treatment for cerebral palsy is considered a relatively new therapy. Only a few in-depth studies have been done, but the results have been positive. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has had their studies highlighted throughout the research for this therapy.
In one of these studies, a 6-year-old with severe cerebral palsy was treated with scalp and ear acupuncture. In these acupuncture sessions, needles were inserted at several points on the scalp and behind the ears to provide stimulation. After the first of 15 weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, sessions, the young boy began to show improvement.
When the child entered the study, he had almost no control of his upper and lower body. He also had difficulties with speech. His muscles were so weak that he could not even mark a paper with a pencil. After the first week of therapy, his speech had improved to the point where physicians could understand what he was saying. By the second week, he began to kick his legs and stand on one foot.
Before starting his third session, the child began to speak even more clearly and dress himself. During the 4th session, he laughed along with the doctors while undergoing treatment. By the fifth session, due to his increasing physical and communicative abilities, he began to feel safer at school and interacting with his peers. He also began to write and paint with ease.
As the sessions continued, the boy continued to improve. His educational skills improved to meet his grade level. He communicated easily and remained physically active. His treatments were spaced apart until the intended therapy course was completed.
The study concluded that acupuncture may be highly beneficial to children with cerebral palsy and can help with associated disorders that often accompany the disorder. It can help with:
- Cognitive issues
- Hearing deficits
- Speech delays
- Physical limitations
- Pain relief
- Improved gross motor functionality
Where Does Acupuncture Take Place?
The medical community has not fully embraced the notion that acupuncture helps children with cerebral palsy. Until more studies demonstrate results, acupuncture treatment is not generally offered at traditional medical offices or hospitals. Acupuncture typically takes place at wellness centers and specialized clinics.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM),
“Acupuncture appears to be safe for most children when performed by appropriately trained practitioners, but a 2011 research review concluded that unwanted side effects can occur when acupuncture is done by poorly trained practitioners.”
These unwanted side effects can include:
- Pain at the site entry (where the needle enters the skin)
- Nerve puncture injuries
- Muscle twitching
- Emotional release, which may lead to crying (this is generally a positive side effect)
Fortunately, regulations in the U.S. mandate that acupuncture needles can only be used once, which helps to reduce the risk of infection. Other symptoms, such as bruising and nerve injuries, are usually eliminated as long as the specialist performing the acupuncture session is fully trained, qualified, and licensed.
To be qualified to practice acupuncture, each candidate must attend a 3-4 year program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). They must also (in most states) obtain a licensed certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
Finding an Acupuncture Specialist
Acupuncture specialists and acupuncture centers are located in numerous places throughout the nation and are generally easy to find via a health care provider referral or online search engine. Keep in mind that you will want to choose someone who specifically specializes in helping children with cerebral palsy, as their situations are always unique.
- What Is Qi? (and Other Concepts). (n.d.). Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing.
Retrieved from: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/traditional-chinese-medicine/what-qi-and-other-concepts
- Chinese Scalp Acupuncture for Cerebral Palsy in a Child Diagnosed With Stroke in Utero. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3833473/
- 7 Things to Know About Mind and Body Practices for Children and Teens. (2019, March 18). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. NCCIH.
Retrieved from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/childmindbody