Acupuncture continues to gain an ever-wider following, despite mixed feelings in the medical community. No matter how you feel about it, though, there is something to be said for edging away from the pharmaceutical-obsessed culture in the Western world. Eastern medicine claims to be equally, if not more, effective than other forms of treatment. We’ll look at what exactly acupuncture has done and what it could do for those with cerebral palsy (CP). Learn more about the background and studies so that you can form an informed opinion of all the options.
Acupuncture is meant to heal the body by pricking the skin or the tissues with needles to alleviate pain and may be recommended for everything from migraines to chronic back pain. The actual penetration is minimal and considered to be non-invasive. Due to its precise nature, it takes an extremely skilled hand and trained person to hit the right parts of the body to either stimulate or relax. The theory is that by disrupting the body’s unnatural energy, the patient can be restored to a healthier state of being.
Acupuncture is meant to restore proper circulation and ensure that the fluids within the body are properly distributed. It’s designed to improve the immune system and keep all systems in the body functioning as they were meant to. The Chinese believe that the body has 12 meridians that account for each person’s life force, and these meridians guide the acupuncturist when determining where exactly the needle will be inserted. It is somewhat similar to how Western medicine perceives pressure points like the temple or wrist.
The acupuncturist may use a plastic tube to insert the needles and may move the needles either up and down or side to side. While this may seem painful, the needles are designed in such a way that this process is not likely to hurt anyone — even those who have CP. More advanced options include electrically charged needles to send mild shocks meant to awaken the body. There are forms of acupuncture that don’t require needles at all. For instance, a specialist may also use their hands or certain sounds on pressure points to relieve tension.
Before someone with cerebral palsy receives treatment, they will first be evaluated for their full medical history by the acupuncturist. There will be a physical component to the exam where breathing, heart rate, and pulse will be tested, as well as less conventional procedures like examining the face and tongue. At that point, if the patient is considered an ideal candidate, the acupuncturist will begin to target the parts of the body that are most likely to aid the person’s overall state of health.
It’s possible to see a D.O. that has been trained to do acupuncture, but it’s more likely you will have it performed by a person who took a three- or four-year graduate program and had 870 hours of instruction or more. The standards are the same in each state, with each person needing to meet the requirements of the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to be allowed to practice. It is generally done outside of a doctor’s office in a clinic devoted to acupuncture only. If a person does choose to have the procedure outside of standard medical care, they still need to inform their primary physician about the treatments they’re undergoing. It is possible to sustain serious injury if performed incorrectly, though the risks are somewhat mitigated by the nature of the needles.
Results and Risks
The results of studies have been promising, even if they have not been definitive. One investigation conducted by the National Institute of Health and the University of Arizona Health Services Center showed that acupuncture may relax the muscles of children with cerebral palsy, which can then reduce the amount of discomfort a child might feel. One five-year-old boy with CP exhibited a flat affect (no emotional development) and little verbal ability. He underwent acupuncture in his extremities and researchers found that afterward the hypertonicity (tension in muscles) was reduced, though only for a limited amount of time. The child was then switched to sound treatment where, after 16 sessions, he had reduced his limb thrusting habits by half. Another study at the University of Arizona Health Services Center found that one group of children with spasticity aged one to six years were found to have improved their motor functions after 16 weeks of treatment.
There are a variety of ways West and East collide when it comes to acupuncture. One kind of acupuncture uses lasers instead of needles and may show promise for children to increase the blood flow to their brains. There is another kind of scalp acupuncture, which combines Eastern and Western principles, that appears to have treated a six-year-old in New Mexico with CP. His mental and verbal abilities improved dramatically after 15 sessions. Eastern medicine claims that it can heal the nerves in the brain and restore motor function. It seems that while Western medicine may still be skeptical about acupuncture, there is a certain amount of acceptance to it as a legitimate practice. However, no one is making any promises until more can be done to prove its efficacy.
Because the work is done with needles, there is an increased risk of infection as well as possible bleeding, dizziness, or injury at the site of insertion — which could mean tissue or even brain injury. Again, this is dependent on the type of acupuncture the patient receives, as well as the level of training of the person performing it. In the US, there is no sharing of needles to ensure that diseases are not transmitted. If the patient has a history of clotting problems, then it may be best to try one of the other forms of acupuncture that does not use needles.
The studies conducted on children with CP have made many people take notice. There do seem to be some benefits when it comes to children and their muscles, even if it is difficult to definitively say that acupuncture is the direct cause. Because the current treatment for cerebral palsy has left many families wanting, it is imperative that professionals continue to document as much as possible so everyone has the facts before embarking on this particular course of treatment.
However, the number of experiments has been few and far between, and despite the initial promising findings, there are few doctors who are willing to claim it as anything resembling a cure. This attitude seems to hold true whether it’s about depression or neurodevelopmental disabilities like cerebral palsy. Acupuncture has been around for many years, but there doesn’t seem to be enough scientific proof to recommend the treatments. Those firmly against the process believe it to be placebo in nature only, while others claim that the relief their patients feel is real. The final takeaway is that practically every medical practitioner would agree that the risks are minimal when performed correctly. Essentially, it may not do very much good but at least it won’t do any harm.