Wondering if acupuncture for cerebral palsy works?
This traditional form of Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years and there still isn’t a consensus of whether it truly works or not.
This article will explain why acupuncture may or may not be an effective treatment for cerebral palsy.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the placing of thin, hair-like needles at specific points on the body to promote your body’s natural flow of energy (qi).
It’s believed that when your qi gets congested, you experience pain, discomfort, stress, or sickness.
But is there a more scientific explanation for why it could provide relief?
One reasoning is that by poking the body with a bunch of tiny needles, you’re stimulating the nerves.
Does Acupuncture for Cerebral Palsy Work?
Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage before, during, or in the first few years after birth.
It results in motor impairments that affect movement, balance, posture, and muscle tone.
It’s not damage to the body that causes motor impairments in people with cerebral palsy.
Instead, it’s damage to the brain, so acupuncture for cerebral palsy generally focuses on stimulating different neural pathways in the brain to improve motor function.
Spastic cerebral palsy is by far the most common type of cerebral palsy and it’s characterized by continuously high muscle tone.
Over time, this muscle imbalance can cause chronic pain. In the United States, acupuncture is primarily used to treat chronic pain and it’s suggested that it can also help reduce spasticity.
However, while acupuncture can relieve some conditions of cerebral palsy, it cannot reverse the damage to the brain.
What Studies Say About Acupuncture for Cerebral Palsy
In this analysis of 21 studies regarding the efficacy of acupuncture for cerebral palsy, a total of 1718 participants were studied.
The collective data show that acupuncture in combination with rehabilitative training resulted in:
- improved gross motor function
- reduced muscle spasms
- overall better quality of life
While these studies have yielded a lot of positive outcomes, there are a few limitations to consider.
1) By extensively searching through 6 English databases and 5 Chinese databases, there were only 21 well-designed randomized controlled trials that fit the criteria for analysis.
2) The sample sizes for these studies were small. The average number of participants out of the 21 trials was 82.
3) There were inconsistencies in methodology and reporting among the studies, suggesting that the data may be affected by bias.
Although acupuncture is an ancient practice, scalp acupuncture is a modern technique that’s only been around for about 40 years.
According to this article,
“Scalp acupuncture is geared toward stimulating and restoring affected brain tissue, as well as retraining unaffected brain tissue to compensate for the lost functions of damaged tissue.“
The exact mechanisms of how scalp acupuncture works have yet to be fully understood. However, like traditional acupuncture, it focuses on activating neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt).
While repetitive, active movement is the best way to promote neuroplasticity, the extra stimulations from acupuncture may provide the brain with the boost it needs to reorganize itself.
Rather than relying solely on acupuncture, using it in combination with physical therapy might just be the best way to optimize neuroplasticity.
Is Acupuncture for Cerebral Palsy Worth Trying?
Something you’ll hear a lot about alternative forms of medicine like acupuncture is that further investigation is necessary.
The results are extremely mixed and there are so many conflicting experiences.
Some people swear by acupuncture while others claim it doesn’t work at all.
The truth is, there’s not enough definitive proof that acupuncture is an effective treatment for cerebral palsy.
However, it is relatively inexpensive and comes with very few risks, so it may be worth a try.
How else could acupuncture have stood the test of time and still be so widely-used after thousands of years?