Alternative therapies for cerebral palsy are therapies that lack scientific evidence, are experimental or have not been generally accepted by professionals, when compared with traditional therapies. Complementary, or alternative medicines (CAMs) cover a broad range of topics. In some cases, CAMs may work with or support a traditional therapy, or treatment program.

What Makes Alternative Therapies for Cerebral Palsy Appealing to Parents?

  • Excitement about new ideas
  • Belief in “natural” things
  • Hearing testimonials/stories about an alternative treatment or program (i.e My friend’s son did this or used this and this great result occurred.)
  • Unhappy with slow pace of child’s changes
  • Upset with the pace of research

It is important to be open and think of both the risks and benefits. If possible risks are not known, that does not mean that risks do not exist. For that reason, it is possible some treatments, even “natural” ones may be harmful. For example, dietary supplements may not be compatible with other products or medications a child with cerebral palsy may be taking.

The alternative therapy for cerebral palsy may also have unwanted side effects on their own. Ask and look for more information, have conversations with your medical team about what is known, or not known, about a particular complementary or alternative treatment.

Discussions about CAMS may lead to disagreement between families and their medical team. During these interactions it may be helpful to consider the positive intentions of your medical team. What have they observed? What are their concerns for you and/or your child?

Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Cerebral Palsy

Below are some popular alternative and complementary therapies commonly discussed or reported to us (through surveys) that have been tried or used by families who have children with cerebral palsy. We are not endorsing the therapies listed below, but are providing this information for educational purposes only.

Perspectives on complementary and alternative therapies will vary depending on who you consult. The lines between what someone considers mainstream and alternative therapy can become blurry and they can shift from alternative to mainstream over time as new or more robust evidence emerges. For example, hippo therapy remains here because it’s still is considered on the edges of mainstream and could be in the complementary category too.

Before proceeding with any intervention or therapy it’s helpful to identify your treatment goals, evaluate the current evidence available (if there is any) and determine what financial and potential medical risks may be at stake. Some programs or interventions may be pursued solely for the fun and social enjoyment they provide and perhaps with less or no focus on potential therapeutic benefit.

    • Acupuncture– Thin, fine, needles are placed into the skin of the person at targeted areas.
    • Anat Baniel Method (ABM)-ABM is based on the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, Anat Baniel’s mentor, and her development of the “Nine Essentials” that she has found prepare the brain for making changes.
    • Aquatic therapy-Treatments and exercises performed in the pool and guided by a therapist or aquatics therapist
    • Adeli Suit (or Theratogs, SPIO suits)- The Adeli suit (also known as the Polish Suit, Therapy Suit, and Therasuit) is a modified piece of equipment from the Soviet Space Program. It was originally developed to counteract long-term weightlessness in space where a lack of gravity can cause atrophy of the muscles. Through wearing the suit, which consists of supporting elements including a vest, shorts, knee caps, and footwear linked by a set of elastic ties, an artificial force is created on the body. The suit holds the body in proper physical alignment and the child goes through various exercises while wearing the suit. It also works to normalize the child’s proprioceptive sense which allows the child to understand where his/her body is in space. The therapy was initially started in Russia and has spread to other parts of the world. In some European facilities the suit is used as part of intensive physiotherapy for several days at a time over a period of 4 weeks.
    • Chinese scalp acupuncture (CSA)- There are four types of Chinese scalp acupuncture techniques. In scalp acupuncture, very short, fine needles are placed on the scalp to achieve the desired therapeutic effects on the different parts of the body.
    • Conductive Education- Many supporters of conductive education argue that it’s mistakenly viewed and evaluated as a therapy when instead, it is an educational model.  Conductive education uses meaningful play or actions with intent and meaning to encourage learning lifelong skills.
    • Craniosacral Therapy- A process using touch, or light massage, around the head (cranium), targeting specific areas to help improve the quality of life of the person by improving their health, immunity and other.
    • Dance Therapy-The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance therapy or movement therapy as the use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, for the purpose of improving health and well-being.
    • Feldenkrais and Functional Integration (FI)Alternative Therapies for Cerebral Palsy, ABMThe Feldenkrais approach is defined as a form of movement education that relies upon gentle movement and directed attention. the individualized hands-on mode of the Feldenkrais Method. It is a non-medical movement modality. During FI lessons the student is guided through a series of positions and gentle movements (fully clothed), all within the easy range of motion. Staying within this range allows them to experience more completely what is possible for them at that given moment. They experience themselves as “whole”, which improves self-image. When movements within this range occur that they has not experienced before, new connections are formed, and new movements, that seemed impossible before, then emerge. The intelligent nervous system “chooses” the ones that are more pleasant and efficient. These replace the more stressful, difficult patterns, and when they “work” they are reinforced and become part of daily life.
    • Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)-A treatment that applies small electrical charges to a muscle that has become weakened. The electrical charge stimulates the muscle to move.
    • Hippotherapy-This type of therapy takes place on a horse and may be physical, occupational, and speech therapy. It relies upon the natural movement of a horse provides motor, and sensory input.
    • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)- Hyperbaric oxygen treatment has been a popular alternative therapy used by many families who have children with CP. It has been studied repeatedly with no proof of its benefit for improving motor function in individuals with cerebral palsy. In 2013 and again in 2019, the FDA issued a warning to consumers about HBOT. To provide the treatment, a person is placed in a hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) chamber. The goal of the therapy in CP is to provide increased oxygenation to the part of the brain between the injured brain tissue and the healthy brain tissue. Potential side effects from the treatment include ear problems due to increased pressure and an increase in seizures.
    • Massage Therapy-Manipulating the soft tissues of the body to reduce stiffness and sometimes pain
    • Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI)– A process that works with the reflexes and sensory integration system to help those with cerebral palsy.
    • Stem cell therapy-Stem cell therapy is based on the idea that stem cells act as building blocks for many different types of cells and tissues in our bodies. They can also divide to make new stem cells. The term “stem cells” may be used to describe an array of different cell types and sources. Different stem cell types have different functions and work in different ways. When it comes to protecting and repairing the brain researchers are looking at the potential ability of stem cells to do the following:
      • Regenerate/create new cells to replace the damaged areas

      •  Help with repair and recovery after an injury

      • Support and rebuild blood vessels

      • Reduce inflammation

        *The following educational video on stem cells was filmed at the 2016 AACPM Community Forum and it presents an excellent overview of the use of stem cells in cerebral palsy.

    • Yoga- The whole system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation. The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, and so a Yoga student treats it with great care and respect. Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body. The Yoga student gently increases breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind. These two systems of exercise and breathing then prepare the body and mind for meditation, allowing the student to cultivate a quiet mind that allows silence and healing from everyday stress. –Adapted from the American Yoga Association website.

The information for cerebral palsy alternative therapies appears in our free and downloadable cerebral palsy tool kit.