Acupuncture is one of the oldest types of medical practices in China, dating back to 6000 BCE. Although it’s considered an alternative form of treatment in the United States and additional studies are needed on its effectiveness, it can be beneficial in helping children with cerebral palsy lessen their symptoms. It can also help with numerous associated disorders.
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.” When the body’s life force is released, it’s said to relieve pain and help treat illnesses and disabilities.
According to the University of Minnesota, the “qi” is several points and functions within the body, including the:
- Body fluids
- Body limbs
- The body’s defense system
- Eating, drinking, and breathing
In order to stimulate the qi, acupuncturists concentrate on pressure points, or “meridians” within the body. When a needle is inserted into the pressure points, the patients feels a little pain, and will feel “qi” moving throughout the meridians. When qi reaches problems areas within the body, it can help heal the deficiencies.
Acupuncture and Cerebral Palsy
Acupuncture treatment for cerebral palsy is still considered relatively new. Only a few in-depth studies have been done, but the results so far have been positive. For example, in a study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), a 6-year-old with severe cerebral palsy was treated with scalp acupuncture and ear acupuncture, meaning needles stimulated several points in the child’s scalp and behind the ears.
After the first of 15 weekly and sometimes bi-weekly sessions, the young boy began showing improvement. When he entered the study, he had almost no control of his upper and lower body. He also had difficulties with speech, and his muscles were so weak that he couldn’t make a mark with a pencil on a sheet of paper. After the first week, his speech improved to the point where physicians could understand what he was saying. By the second, he began to kick his legs and stand on one foot.
Before starting his third session, the child started to talk even more clearly, and began to dress himself. During the 4th session, he laughed along with the doctors while undergoing treatment. By the fifth session, not only was he more physically active and communicating better, he began to feel safer at school and interact with his peers. He also began to write and paint with ease, on the level of his peers.
As the sessions continued on, the boy continued to improve. His educational skills improved to grade level, he communicated with ease, and remained physically active. His treatments were extended to monthly sessions only after his vast improvement.
The study concluded that acupuncture may be extremely beneficial to kids with cerebral palsy, and can help with associated disorders that often accompany the disorder, such as difficulties with speech and hearing. It can also help with:
- Cognitive Issues
- Physical limitations
- Pain relief
- Improved gross motor functionality
Where Does Acupuncture Take Place?
Acupuncture typically takes place at wellness centers and special clinics. The medical community hasn’t fully embraced the notion that acupuncture helps children with cerebral palsy, and until more studies are concluded, acupuncture treatment isn’t generally held in traditional medical offices and hospitals.
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, rules in the U.S. mandate that acupuncture needles can only be used once, which eliminates the risk of infection. Other symptoms, such as bruising and nerve injuries, are usually eliminated as long as the specialist performing the acupuncture sessions is fully trained, qualified, and licensed.
In ordered 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 physician referral or Google search. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to choose someone who specifically specializes in helping children with cerebral palsy, as their situations are always unique. If you need assistance, feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to assist you.