When your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, your doctor, paediatrician or health visitor will refer you to the most appropriate and beneficial therapeutic services at the right time. Under mainstream healthcare these will most likely be:
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
See also Treatments for cerebral palsy for more detail on these mainstream therapies.
Of course other therapies will be available to you, either provided by your local authority (following an assessment), or privately arranged and funded by yourself or with help from a charity.
Before embarking on any alternative therapy, talk to your doctor or paediatrician about its benefits for you/your child, especially if the treatment is expensive or if its efficacy is not widely accepted by the medical community, such as acupuncture.
You may also want to check that any treatment has been researched and evaluated by independent experts and that the therapists are trained, qualified and insured.
Always ask about the pros and cons of any alternative therapies for cerebral palsy, and weigh up the benefits.
We explore some popular alternative therapies for people with cerebral palsy in more detail below:
Is hydrotherapy an effective treatment for cerebral palsy?
Hydrotherapy is a specific type of treatment conducted by trained therapists for people with cerebral palsy that takes place in warm swimming pools or specialist hydrotherapy pools.
Weightlessness in the water enables people with cerebral palsy to enjoy a range motion that they may struggle with on land. This means that they are free to perform a range of cardiovascular and resistance exercises without placing undue stress on their body. The warmth of the water can also help to ease muscles and reduce pain.
Flotation devices are often used during the exercises, such as boards and life jackets. Lifts and assistive technologies are available to help those with severe physical disabilities to get in and out of the pool and to support their therapy session.
A hydrotherapy pool is one of the best places to perform exercises that improve movement, physical ability and fitness in people with cerebral palsy. It’s also a relaxing and enjoyable experience that helps to relieve tension.
What is hippotherapy and how can it help cerebral palsy?
Hippotherapy is a form of riding therapy, or physiotherapy, that uses the movement of a horse to relieve tight muscles, build up weak muscles and improve balance and coordination in people with cerebral palsy.
The movement of a horse’s back when it walks mimics the human pelvis in walk. So when sitting on the horse (usually on a pad, not a saddle) the constant forward-back, side-to-side and turning motions can free up the muscles in the spine, and strengthen muscles in a way that can improve mobility, balance and coordination on the ground.
Hippotherapy is delivered by qualified physiotherapists with additional qualifications. They may use unconventional techniques like leaning a child back on the saddle pad, sitting them sideways or asking the child to kneel on the horse to achieve the desired effect. Therapists may sit behind the child on the horse if they have severe disabilities.
Because hippotherapy is a multisensory, sociable experience conducted in the open air and on horses, it brings both psychological and physical benefits. It is different from the therapeutic riding techniques taught by Riding for the Disabled (RDA).
What is Conductive Education?
Conductive education is a holistic system of learning that helps children and adults with neurological conditions to overcome their physical challenges and develop purposeful movement with less reliance on aids. It’s usually delivered in a full-time school setting, intensive holiday sessions or weekly classes for adults.
The model approaches the rehabilitation of people with motor disabilities from an educational perspective, rather than a medical perspective. It focuses on the link between the mind and body and the importance of developing the motivation, confidence and intention required to achieve physical goals. Neurological conditions are not seen as ‘limiting’ but as a key to the direction of learning required.
Conductive education therefore encourages the development of the whole child or adult, including physical, intellectual, social and emotional skills. The programme includes a timetable of relevant, fun and age-appropriate activities, including learning strategies and movement skill tasks. There is plenty of opportunity for practising movements and lots of achievement and praise.
School-aged children follow the national curriculum and daily living skills are integrated into the activities e.g. washing and dressing.
Central to the learning system is the teacher, or ‘conductor’ and the ‘group’. Conductors are specially qualified to plan and deliver age-appropriate, tailored conductive education and may work with other professionals.
A group setting for learning is important, because social interactions, healthy competition, support, celebrating success and learning from others are key to the success of conductive education.
Parents and carers are encouraged to learn from the conductors so that they can help children to practise their skills at home.
Where can we access Conductive Education?
Conductive education centres provide outreach centres in schools and other community settings. Home visits may be available.
To find a Conductive Education centre near you, please contact the National Institute of Conductive Education (NICE), based in Birmingham, on 0121 449 1569 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a list of centres offering conductive education at the Conductive Education Professional Education Group’s website. (CEPEG)
What is Bobath therapy?
Therapy at the Bobath Centre includes a team of speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists analysing the specific difficulties your child has in participating in ordinary activities.
Working together, they will help you to find practical solutions to these difficulties that can be regularly practised and incorporated into everyday life.
Treatment costs may be covered by the NHS if your child is ordinarily resident in the UK.
Where can we access the Bobath Centre?
The Bobath Centre is in London and treatment takes place over a two-week period. You can access therapy by asking your child’s doctor to make a referral to the centre. For more information visit www.bobath.org.uk, email email@example.com or call 020 8444 3355.
The cost of treatment might be covered by your local NHS clinical commissioning group (ask your doctor), or you can pay for the treatment yourself.
What are complementary therapies and are they suitable for people with cerebral palsy?
Complementary therapies include practices such as acupuncture, yoga and baby massage.
Acupuncture is a Chinese healing therapy that can help to relieve pain and is widely available in the UK. As an alternative to medicine, it is commonly used to relieve the pain associated with migraines, backache and sports injuries. Studies in the USA have shown some short-term improvements in muscle tightness when acupuncture is performed on children with cerebral palsy.
We recommend that you talk to your paediatrician or doctor and do further research before considering acupuncture as an alternative therapy for cerebral palsy.
If you are considering other therapies such as yoga and baby massage, check that your doctor approves of the approach and that the therapist is adequately trained and qualified to practice with people with cerebral palsy
See also Treatments for cerebral palsy.