Therapies

A variety of nondrug therapies can help a person with cerebral palsy enhance functional abilities:

  • Physical therapy. Muscle training and exercises may help your child’s strength, flexibility, balance, motor development and mobility. You’ll also learn how to safely care for your child’s everyday needs at home, such as bathing and feeding your child.

    For the first 1 to 2 years after birth, both physical and occupational therapists provide support with issues such as head and trunk control, rolling, and grasping. Later, both types of therapists are involved in wheelchair assessments.

    Braces or splints may be recommended for your child. Some of these supports help with function, such as improved walking. Others may stretch stiff muscles to help prevent rigid muscles (contractures).

  • Occupational therapy. Using alternative strategies and adaptive equipment, occupational therapists work to promote your child’s independent participation in daily activities and routines in the home, the school and the community.

    Adaptive equipment may include walkers, quadrupedal canes, seating systems or electric wheelchairs.

  • Speech and language therapy. Speech-language pathologists can help improve your child’s ability to speak clearly or to communicate using sign language.

    Speech-language pathologists can also teach your child to use communication devices, such as a computer and voice synthesizer, if communication is difficult.

    Another communication device may be a board covered with pictures of items and activities your child may see in daily life. Sentences can be constructed by pointing to the pictures.

    Speech therapists may also address difficulties with muscles used in eating and swallowing.

  • Recreational therapy. Some children may benefit from recreational therapies, such as therapeutic horseback riding. This type of therapy can help improve your child’s motor skills, speech and emotional well-being.

Surgical or other procedures

Surgery may be needed to lessen muscle tightness or correct bone abnormalities caused by spasticity. These treatments include:

  • Orthopedic surgery. Children with severe contractures or deformities may need surgery on bones or joints to place their arms, hips or legs in their correct positions.

    Surgical procedures can also lengthen muscles and tendons that are proportionally too short because of severe contractures. These corrections can lessen pain and improve mobility. The procedures may also make it easier to use a walker, braces or crutches.

  • Severing nerves. In some severe cases, when other treatments haven’t helped, surgeons may cut the nerves serving the spastic muscles in a procedure called selective dorsal rhizotomy. This relaxes the muscle and reduces pain, but can also cause numbness.

Alternative medicine

Some children and adolescents with cerebral palsy use some form of complementary or alternative medicine.

For example, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is widely promoted for cerebral palsy treatment despite limited evidence of efficacy. This and other unproven therapies for cerebral palsy should be viewed with skepticism. Controlled clinical trials involving therapies such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, resistance exercise training using special clothing, assisted motion completion for children and certain forms of electrical stimulation have been inconclusive or showed no benefit to date, and the therapies are not accepted mainstream clinical practice.

Stem cell therapy is being explored as a treatment approach for cerebral palsy, but research is still assessing whether such approaches are safe and effective. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere are examining the safety and tolerability of umbilical cord blood stem cell infusion in children with cerebral palsy.

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