Children with cerebral palsy and other disabilities can experience pain relief with individually adjusted acupuncture, and the approach could be a valuable non-toxic treatment option for their everyday pain management, according to a case review study published by Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in the journal Medical Acupuncture.
People with cerebral palsy, spinal injury, and other complex conditions can experience chronic pain, a long-lasting effect of their disease or condition. This type of pain can be the result of spasticity, musculoskeletal malformations, or even result from sitting in a wheelchair for several hours each day.
Medications to control the pain can make them sleepy, gain weight, and exacerbate mood swings, adding to the disease’s burden for them and their families, according to Scott Schwantes, MD, a pediatrician at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota, and lead author of the study.
“These kids have a complex array of distressing symptoms that decrease their quality of life. For some of them, acupuncture may be a valuable tool to add to their treatment,” he said in a press release.
The case study looked at nine pediatric patients with different complex medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, who were treated at Gillette between June 2014 and June 2015. All were given acupuncture therapy individually tailored to their condition, meaning the acupuncture might have included energetic work, biomechanical treatment (surface release technique, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), or ear stimulation.
Results showed that all of the children experienced clear benefits from the acupuncture, ranging from decreased pain to complete relief. The largest drawback was needle phobia in some children.
Acupuncture typically takes about 30 minutes and involves the process of strategically placing a series of needles at particular points on the patient’s body. The mechanisms behind the pain-relieving effect are not fully understood, but there is evidence showing that when the needle stimulates nerves at specific points, messages are sent to the brain to release endorphins (morphine-like compounds). These endorphins block pain pathways in the brain.
Because of its endorphin-enhancing effect, acupuncture is also a widely accepted treatment in opiate (morphine, heroin) withdrawal.
“The minimally invasive outpatient procedure could be an alternative for children who are already burdened with surgeries, frequent hospital stays, and medications,” Schwantes said. “This study shows that acupuncture can be a safe, well-tolerated, and effective therapy for children and young adults with pediatric-onset disabilities.”