Although cerebral palsy (CP) has no known cure yet, there are a myriad of treatments that have been proven successful in helping those with CP live more productively. If you’re the parent of a child or infant with CP, it’s important to understand what treatment options are available in order to determine what will work best for you. CP is a wide-spectrum disorder, ranging from mild to severe, and treatment will depend upon your child’s individual circumstances.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, getting a child with CP involved in physical therapy is one of the most important things you can do for treatment of the disorder. Physical therapy involves rehabilitating the child’s physical disabilities through a series of muscle training. Since each child’s situation is unique, a professional physical therapist will typically perform an assessment, and based upon its findings, individualized physical therapy plans will follow. Common exercises included in physical therapy sessions include:
- Specialized strength exercises
- Therapeutic endurance exercises
- Stretching and joint mobilization training
- Balance practice
In some instances, children with CP will have swimming therapy during their physical therapy sessions. These sessions are done with careful assistance and caution, but are extremely important as it allows children to utilize muscle groups and do therapeutic exercises they otherwise aren’t able to do. In addition, depending on the severity of the disability, some children with CP may engage in dancing and ball-throwing. For those who are unable to move without assisted, specialized computers may be available, as well as wheelchairs and braces.
Physical therapy can take place in a variety of different settings. For example, the Easter Seals offers specialized classes as well as summer camps in which children of all ages, including infants, receive one-on-one and group physical therapy. In addition, there are centers created solely for children with physical therapy, medical centers, inpatient treatment centers, and home-based training in which a licensed physical therapist works with children in a familiar setting. It’s important for children to practice what they’ve learned at home as well. Be certain to utilize what your child learns in physical therapy on a daily basis for the best chances of success.
In some instances, surgery is a viable option in order to control pain, prevent deformities, and improve mobility. There are several different types of surgeries for CP treatment, and a physician typically determines the best type according to your child’s individual needs. The most common forms of surgery include:
Hearing surgery treats ear blockage and infections that many people with CP are prone to. In addition, it helps treat nerve fiber damage to the inner ear, another common problem with children who have CP. In addition to surgery, hearing aids, sign language, computer visuals, lip cues, and body gesture training is helpful.
Surgery for Medicinal Needs
Children and infants who rely on medication for consistent, chronic pain may benefit from a surgical procedure that allow the medicine to dispense continuously. A Baclofen pump is the most common method used to dispense medicine to those with severe pain associated with CP. Before the pump is inserted, a procedure known as a “lumbar puncture” is performed, in which physicians insert a small dosage of Baclofen into the patient’s spinal column for testing purposes. If the testing is successful, the pump is inserted into the abdominal area and then connected to the spinal cord via a small tube.
Orthopedic surgery is the most common type of surgery for CP patients as its considered the least invasive when compared with other forms of surgeries. The location of orthopedic surgery can take place in multiple areas of the body, including the arms, wrists, legs, ankles, back, spine, feet, hips, and shoulders. The aim of orthopedic surgery is to help control pain while allowing the CP patient to focus on independent mobility and self-care. Most children with CP undergo orthopedic surgery in their lower extremities (legs, ankles, feet), although some children benefit more from orthopedic surgery on their upper extremities (arms, shoulders, upper back).
Vision surgery helps CP patients have more control over eye movement as well as repair vision loss and/or impairment. However, before surgery is offered, physicians usually test out eyeglasses or contacts first. If the vision is still impaired, surgery typically follows. The parents of many CP patients who underwent vision surgery state that it helped with socialization progress and daily activities. Experts also suggest that normal vision is an important factor in life expectancy.
Medicine for CP is meant to help patients control pain and reduce complications associated with the disorder. As with other forms of treatment, the type of medicine your child needs will depend on the severity of CP and the complications involved. The most common types of medication for CP include:
- Muscle Relaxants: Muscle relaxants such as Valium and Baclofen promote muscle relaxation by reducing spasms and stiff muscles. Most muscles relaxants are given orally unless special surgery is needed to continuous administration.
- Seizure Medication: Seizures are a common problem for many people who have CP. Anti-convulsant medication such as Trileptal and Lamictal helps control seizures.
- Anticholinergic Medication: For people who suffer from dystonic CP, antocholinergic medication, such as Robinal, may be prescribed. These types of medications help those who drool often and have uncontrollable body movements.
It’s important to note that many doctors feel that giving muscle relaxant medication to growing children is harmful, specifically because the side effects may be more detrimental than the spasms and muscle stiffness. Some doctors, however, feel that the benefits that muscle relaxants give to children with CP outweigh the side effects. Your physician will be able to provide information to you and your child’s needs.
Alternative and Complementary Treatments
Although most alternative and complementary treatments for CP have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, numerous parents and loved ones have seen positive results. Keep in mind, however, that not all treatment options work the same for each person. Yet, if you’re interested in more natural and holistic ways to help your child, consider the following:
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Electrical stimulation
- Alternative learning, such as conductive education
- Equestrian therapy
- Massage therapy
- Energy-channeling therapy