Parents are sometimes frustrated or disappointed by treatments for their children with cerebral palsy. Eager for anything that might bring improvement in this chronic condition, parents often turn to untested or unproven treatments. Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture in particular, is among the popular alternatives.
Even though many hopeful families have reported gains such as decreased drooling and improved motor coordination in their children, evidence-based investigation into this use of acupuncture has been lacking. Are these stories the result of wishful thinking? Or might acupuncture really help?
Researchers at the Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital of the University of Hong Kong performed a careful experiment to try to learn. Half of the children with CP received a total of 15 seconds of acupuncture every day for 8 weeks in three acupoints on the tongue. The other half received sham acupuncture by the same practitioner – needles pressed against non-acupoints on the tongue, but not inserted.
Real acupuncture was associated with significant improvement in gross motor function compared to the control group. Acupuncture may indeed prove to be a useful addition to the treatment of cerebral palsy.