What are Some Non-Traditional Medical Treatments Used to Treat Cerebral Palsy?

non-traditional treatmentPeople with cerebral palsy experience a range of negative side effects. Some of the most commonly reported issues include muscle spasticity, hypertonia (high muscle tone), and hypotonia (low muscle tone). These symptoms can lead to conditions such as abnormal gait patterns, urinary incontinence, drooling, and chronic pain, all of which significantly decrease quality of life. People with cerebral palsy may not only experience physical side effects, but also psychological consequences. Social isolation and mental health problems are common in patients with cerebral palsy.

Researchers have spent decades researching causes and a variety of treatments for those who struggle with cerebral palsy. Medications exist to treat muscle spasticity and pain, while surgical intervention can help restore gait. Orthotic devices also work to improve stability and support range of motion. Together, these interventions can help children achieve the optimum level of functioning and life quality.

However, some parents still look for any treatments that could possibly improve their children's lives. Several alternative, non-traditional treatments exist for cerebral palsy. These treatments are best suited for use in conjunction with conventional treatments to improve health outcomes.

Therapeutic Electrical Stimulation

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation, or therapeutic electrical stimulation, introduces electricity into motor nerves, which stimulates the contraction of muscle groups. By isolating and stimulating hypotonic areas, NES works to help the body compensate for irregular muscle tone and increase both range of motion and strength.

Threshold Electrical Stimulation

This form of stimulation involves electrical activity at a threshold too low to stimulate muscle activity. Like NES, its intention is to improve range of motion, muscle strength, and endurance. However, since it has no demonstrated efficacy, it's a controversial therapy that most practitioners do not recommend.

Hyperbaric Oxygen

Some children have a diagnosis of cerebral palsy as the result of a fetal stroke or oxygen deprivation at birth, which resulted in brain damage. People who deliver oxygen therapy theorize that hyperbaric oxygen can help "awaken" the areas of the brain that were deprived of oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen is a higher concentration than oxygen in the atmosphere. However, recent studies on the efficacy of hyperbaric therapy found no difference between children who received the treatment and control groups.


Acupuncture is an ancient method of triggering certain points of the body to a certain effect, such as reduced inflammation and pain. Anecdotally, some people report that acupuncture is effective in relieving the symptoms of chronic pain. Since people with cerebral palsy often suffer pain from spasticity and tightening of the muscles, acupuncture is a potentially suitable alternative treatment. However, since it is invasive in nature, parents should be wary of performing it on children or at unlicensed centers.

Equine Assisted Therapy

Equine therapy, or therapeutic horseback riding, is an approach based on improving a child's quality of life through improved self-esteem and socialization. Hippotherapy is a specialized form of equine therapy that taps into a horse's natural movement to promote the delivery of speech, occupational, and even physical therapy. Proponents of these types of therapies state that they can improve a child's strength, endurance, range of motion, and posture, as well as his or her mental wellness and sense of self-efficacy.

Complementary and alternative therapies for cerebral palsy run the gamut from viable to controversial. Parents should be aware of the risks and benefits of each treatment before attempting them on their children. Alternative therapies are also not appropriate replacements for evidence-based therapies such as speech, occupational, and physical therapies. Healthcare practitioners can help parents decide which treatments, delivered in combination with conventional therapies, will provide the best outcomes for their children with the lowest comparable level of risk.