Controversial therapies for cerebral palsy

Some therapies used to treat people with cerebral palsy are controversial and may even be harmful. Talk with your doctor before beginning any type of therapy, including any method that is not practiced in mainstream medicine. Be aware that alternative therapies can be expensive and may not be covered by medical insurance.

Listed below are some examples of alternative therapies for cerebral palsy.

  • Electrical stimulation. Electrical stimulation therapies (TES, FES, or NMES) use very low levels of electrical current to trigger muscle contraction. These treatments are used to relieve symptoms of joint stiffness and muscle tightness (spasticity) and may be most helpful for a rapidly growing child. But the effects of electrical stimulation do not last long. These therapies usually are combined with other treatments, such as physical therapy.
  • Patterning technique. Patterning attempts to teach physical skills to children with cerebral palsy. The movements are taught in the same order that they are mastered by children developing normally. For example, most young children crawl before they walk. When applying the patterning technique to a child with cerebral palsy, he or she is taught to crawl before walking, regardless of age. More research is needed on this technique. It has not been proved effective and can be stressful and frustrating for both children and parents.1
  • Craniosacral therapy or cranial osteopathy. Craniosacral therapy or cranial osteopathy is a skull massage technique used on infants or children to reduce the symptoms of cerebral palsy. So far, no clear evidence supports the effectiveness of this technique. More research is needed.1
  • Oxygen therapy or hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy or hyperbaric oxygen therapy adds pure oxygen to the surroundings of a person with cerebral palsy. This treatment has not been shown to help children with cerebral palsy.2
  • Special diets and vitamins. Following special diets and taking large doses of certain vitamins (megavitamin therapy) has not been shown to increase physical strength and flexibility in people with cerebral palsy. Some vitamins, such as vitamin A, can be toxic in high doses.
  • Surgery for drooling. Surgical redirection of saliva flow requires incisions around the mouth and can cause complications. Most doctors do not recommend it.

Citations

  1. Liptak GS (2005). Complementary and alternative therapies for cerebral palsy. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 11(2): 156–163.
  2. Johnston MV (2007). Cerebral palsy section of Encephalopathies. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., pp. 2494–2496. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Last Updated: October 14, 2008

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