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Chiropractic and Cerebral Palsy: Making an Impact for Children

By Genevieve Cunningham

Chiropractic and Cerebral Palsy: Making an Impact for Children

Children are among life’s greatest gifts. If you ask a tired, overworked parent, you’ll hear that children are messy, loud, and fight all the time. And all of that is true. Kids certainly aren’t a walk in the park. In fact, a walk in the park could quickly turn into muddy feet, scraped knees, and tantrum-inducing exhaustion.

But there’s something special about kids. Something that makes us want to keep them safe and secure in their childhood bubble as long as possible. Something that makes us want to take on all of their problems just to keep kids from suffering or struggling in any way. But that’s not always possible.

Sometimes children are born with or quickly obtain struggles of their own. According to UNICEF, there are almost 240 million children with disabilities worldwide. Disabilities that make it difficult to move, play, and keep up with the fast pace of childhood. In the United States, the most common motor disability in childhood is cerebral palsy. But what is cerebral palsy, and more importantly, what can we do to help kids with this disability live life to the absolute fullest?

What is Cerebral Palsy?

According to the Center for Disease Control, cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. The first half of the name, cerebral, means having to do with the brain; palsy means problems with using the muscles. Children who suffer from this disability vary widely in their abilities. Some may have trouble keeping good posture. Others may have trouble walking. Some may have involuntary movements of the limbs. Most people have a combination of these issues and possibly more.

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disability. Children won’t outgrow it. Although some may have symptoms so severe that any movement is difficult, others may have symptoms that are only mildly noticeable. No matter the severity, those with cerebral palsy will likely need extra care to ease discomfort and improve movement.

What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

The symptoms of cerebral palsy may differ based on the type from which a person suffers. Each condition comes with its own set of symptoms, though some will certainly overlap. The specific symptoms help doctors properly diagnose each patient. The four types of cerebral palsy and their most common symptoms include:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy - This type is associated with stiff and tight muscles and a limited range of motion.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy - With this condition, the muscles may sometimes feel stiff and other times feel floppy. This back and forth of the muscles creates spasms for many.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy - Those suffering from this type may have serious problems with balance and coordination. They may also experience tremors, especially in the limbs.
  • Mixed cerebral palsy - This is exactly what it sounds like. Those with this type have symptoms from multiple kinds of cerebral palsy.

Most children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed by age 2, but the symptoms are often apparent before this date. The first signs of cerebral palsy that may send parents and their children to the doctor include delayed milestones, extra tight or extra floppy muscles, trouble with basic motor skills, and trouble with balance. If you suspect that your child isn’t developing as they should, seeing the pediatrician is never a bad idea.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Though cerebral palsy is thought to be caused by a head injury during birth or in infancy, most of the symptoms are present in the musculoskeletal system. Unfortunately, disorders of the musculoskeletal system can significantly impact quality of life. According to the National Institutes of Health, those with these kinds of disorders lose much more than mobility. They also lose their personal independence and can suffer from declines in mental health. They may suffer from chronic pain, which makes movement even more difficult. Due to the issues with movement, people with cerebral palsy and similar disorders are at higher risk of injury and have higher mortality rates.

The effects on quality of life are sometimes obvious -- when a person is confined to a wheelchair, for example -- and other times, the effects are much less obvious. Feelings of isolation, mourning the loss of independence, and fears of the future are all ways in which cerebral palsy patients may be silently affected in everyday life.

Chiropractic Care for Musculoskeletal Disorders

Although there is not currently a cure for cerebral palsy, there are treatments available to help minimize the symptoms and promote pain relief and independence. Some of the most common and effective treatments include the following.

  • Physical and occupational therapy - This is aimed at developing increased muscle tone and encouraging independent movement.
  • Muscle or nerve injections - Things such as botox have been found to block pain and rigidity.
  • Medications - When cerebral palsy leads to a loss of muscle control in the mouth, medications can help with side effects, such as drooling.
  • Surgery (in severe cases) - This is typically only used in the most severe cases after all other options have been exhausted.

Another promising treatment option is chiropractic care. Some research suggests that regular chiropractic care improves mobility and motor function and reduces pain. It’s important to note that chiropractic care is not a cure, but rather a way to potentially treat the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Studies are still ongoing into the effectiveness of chiropractic care on cerebral palsy patients. However, most doctors agree that the future of chiropractic and cerebral palsy is promising, and patients who are finding success with treatment can continue with their doctor’s approval. For those who have children with cerebral palsy, chiropractic may be a worthwhile option to help mitigate some of the symptoms.

Skating through childhood perfectly healthy isn’t reality. Kids are going to get sick and injured multiple times as they’re growing up. But for kids with cerebral palsy, the cards are stacked against them from the very beginning. As adults, maybe we can help make an impact.

Maybe childhood really won’t be a walk in the park, but maybe we can help those with cerebral palsy actually enjoy a walk in the park. And maybe, with the right care and a whole lot of love, we can make the magic of childhood -- no matter what conditions or ailments kids face -- last just a little longer.

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