Cerebral Palsy Treatments and Therapies

Cerebral Palsy Treatments and Therapies
Once your child receives a cerebral palsy diagnosis, it is important to start
treatments and therapies as soon as possible. Early intervention may allow
your child to minimize the symptoms of the disorder and help improve their
quality of life.
This list is intended as a brief introduction to each topic. For more information
about specific treatments and therapies, talk to your child’s doctors.
Not all children with cerebral palsy require medications, though many do.
Today, there are many medications that can help in the management of a
variety of conditions such as seizures, spasticity or gastrointestinal issues.
These medications may be delivered orally, via a feeding tube or through an
implanted pump.
Surgical intervention is normally a last resort when medications, therapy or
other interventions fail to have a positive impact. Surgical intervention may
be necessary to loosen tight muscles and release fixed joints (contractures) or
to bring relief to spasm and help with orthopaedic issues such as hip
Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a branch of medicine directed at the rehabilitation of
muscles and the musculoskeletal system. It is a cornerstone of cerebral palsy
treatment. Physical therapy usually begins in the first few years of life or soon
after a diagnosis is made. Physical therapy uses a variety of equipment and
exercises to help patients achieve or improve abilities and mobility.
There is no standard therapy that works for every individual with cerebral
palsy. Physical therapy programs use specific sets of exercises and activities
based on a patient’s needs. The two most important goals are preventing
weakening or deterioration of the muscles that aren’t being used (disuse
atrophy) and keeping muscles from becoming fixed in a rigid, abnormal
position (contracture). Early detection and management of muscular
problems is crucial in early childhood development.
Speech Therapy
Speech therapy is the treatment of communication disorders, regardless of
the origin. Therapists that work in the field of communication disorders are
known as speech therapists and speech-language pathologists. Therapy may
consist of a series of exercises and drills designed to strengthen the muscles
involved in speech and swallowing and improve oral motor skills. Speech
therapy may also include sign language and the use of picture symbols or
augmented and alternative communication devices.
Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy (OT) and rehabilitation deals primarily with muscles
responsible for:
Wrist, hand, and finger movements
Facial expressions
Tongue movement and swallowing reflexes
Occupational therapists are trained to help patients acquire or improve daily
living skills needed for self-care, work, and play. Occupational therapy uses a
regiment of exercises, adaptive equipment, and training to help a child realize
goals and independence.
Also referred to as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy can improve behavioural
issues, provide encouragement, improve self-esteem, reinforce positive
messages and stop negative behaviours.
Alternative Therapies
Therapeutic (sub threshold) Electrical Stimulation
Also called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NES), this therapy pulses
electricity into the motor nerves to stimulate contraction in selective muscle
groups. Many studies have demonstrated that NES appears to increase range
of motion and muscular strength.
Threshold Electrical Stimulation
This therapy involves the application of electrical stimulation at intensities
too low to stimulate muscle contraction. Threshold electrical stimulation is
controversial. Studies have not been able to demonstrate its effectiveness or
any significant improvement with its use.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Some children developed cerebral palsy as the result of brain damage from
oxygen deprivation. Proponents of hyperbaric oxygen therapy propose that the
brain tissue surrounding the damaged area can be “awakened” by forcing high
concentrations of oxygen into the body under greater than atmospheric
Finding the Right Mix
As parents, it’s our jobs to become knowledgeable about as many different
treatment and therapy options for our children as possible. However, no
amount of research can replace the advice of a qualified doctor. Determining
the right combination of treatments and therapies is best achieved through
close collaboration between yourself and your child’s doctors and caregivers.