Holistic medicine means the care of a person as a whole. Often, doctors treat patients as if they were machines with a malfunctioning part. They treat the part and pay scant attention to the whole person. Holistic medicine treats the patient as an integrated, unified entity, applying body-wide treatments to bring about a cure or alleviate the problem. For the cerebral palsy patient, the effected limbs and the brain are treated in conjunction with the entire body.
Cerebral palsy, which manifests as a range of posture and motor impairments, is a common cause of disability in childhood. It results from various areas and types of damage to different areas within the patient’s nervous system. The prognosis of cerebral palsy is usually determined before the age of three. While C.P. has no cure, medication along with physical, occupational and behavioral therapy can help to control the outward symptoms of seizures and spasms. Two out of every 1,000 children in the US has cerebral palsy.
The Holistic approach encompasses many practices some highly commendable, while others are blatant quackery. The following have proven successful in dealing with the symptoms of cerebral palsy.
One of the hallmarks of holistic treatment is healthy eating. Working in conjunction with a nutritionist, the holistic practitioner will tailor a diet for the CP patient that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and discourages junk food and sweet soft drinks. A healthy diet, while making no pretensions about being a cure for cerebral palsy, can go a long way towards mitigating or even reducing the symptoms. The advice of an allergist may also be recommended to prevent further muscular and neural deterioration.
Acupuncture has achieved some astonishing successes with cerebral palsy patients. This treatment is offered at the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Tbilisi, where it has convinced the famously thorough, once skeptical attending German physicians of its value. According to a 2004 article in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, traditional Chinese medicine has been used successfully in the treatment of cerebral palsy. In a test on 33 randomly chosen CP children, the clinical outcome using the gross motor function showed a notable improvement in the motor function of those who had undergone the treatment. So, while it might not be successful for every patient, and it certainly will not provide a cure, acupuncture’s track record makes it is worth investigation by the child’s care team.
This involves attaching an electromyography machine to the patient’s body via electrodes. The machine reads the body’s local electrical impulses and manipulates them to bring about relaxation and improve muscle tone. It has been known to improve movement in cerebral palsy patients. Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of the bestselling book, Mind Boosters and an international authority on dietary supplements and natural medicine, sites one study of 36 children with spastic cerebral palsy and dynamic equines deformity. Twenty one of the children received EMG biofeedback in addition to conventional exercise, while the control group of 15 children received only the exercise program. The biofeedback group displayed statistically greater improvement in the tonus of plantar flexor muscles and active ROM of ankle joints as well as gait function.
There are many yoga centers specially designed for handicapped children. Through their exercise and meditation regimens, they claim successes in alleviating some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism, among other disorders. An e-book entitled, Yoga for the Special Child highlights many of the advantages of including Yoga in the care of a CP child. These include: enhancing the natural development of the child through a series of gentle and therapeutic exercises, an integrated series of Yoga poses which increase body awareness, flexibility and strength, unique breathing exercises and relaxation techniques which reduce hyperactivity and improve concentration, early intervention which supports the healthy formative development for infants, babies, and toddlers.
Cindy Kaplan, the mother of a daughter who has Cerebral Palsy writes, “When I attended Sonia’s Basic Certificate program, I had no idea of the profound impact it would have on my own Yoga practice, the way I saw my daughter who has many physical challenges die to cerebral palsy, or my parenting as a whole. Sonia taught me that despite my daughter’s physical challenges, her soul is perfectly intact.
In addition to conventional occupational and physical therapy, there are other less traveled paths that might make a major difference. These include Rolfing (realignment of neck and head), the Alexander Method (training the body to work more efficiently), and reflexology (a form of massage).
According to Ruth Werner, author of A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, “As long as sensation is intact and the patient is able to communicate with the therapist in some way, massage is appropriate and potentially very useful for persons with cerebral palsy, as they work to maintain muscular elasticity and improve motor skills.”
Dr. Kalyani Premkumar, author of Pathology A to Z – A Handbook for Massage Therapists, is a vocal advocate for the use of massage in caring for cerebral palsy patients. She points out that the goal of health team therapists is to support the patient, given that there is no cure for C.P. Their job is to find ways to reduce the stress and spasticity, prevent contractures, improve posture and circulation to the skin and muscles that are not being used. She writes, “”Since any form of stress increases the symptom, a relaxing massage helps reduce the spasms and involuntary movements. Passive movements and range-of-motion exercises of joints prevent contractures of muscles.”
She points out that it is important to keep detailed notes on C.P. clients,“as their spasticity and postural changes can vary from day to day. Keep a meticulous record of physical disability, massage strokes used and duration of treatment for every individual treated, in order to help them maximally.”
Whatever has a reasonable chance of improving quality of life deserves investigation. However, whatever holistic and alternative medicines one decides to use, it is vital to work together with the child’s care team, and listen to what they have to say. Some holistic methods may even compliment the child’s conventional therapy, and vice versa.