Treating Cerebral Palsy With Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

What is Cerebral Palsy?

The term cerebral palsy refers to a class of disorders which results in severely impaired motor skills, leading to spastic movements, loss of fine motor control, and awkwardly contracted muscles. While the exact cause of cerebral palsy is can not always be determined, complications or injuries sustained during birth account for many cases of cerebral palsy.

There is no known cure for cerebral palsy; it is a lifelong disorder. However, with intensive treatment and therapy regimens, as well as attention and care from parents and medical personnel, many children with cerebral palsy can become functional, relatively independent adults.

An Overview of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is the administration of high concentrations of pure oxygen in a strong- but controlled-pressure environment. Originally developed as a treatment for decompression sickness in divers, HBOT essentially creates an extremely oxygen-rich blood supply and internal body environment. HBOT has also proven effective in promoting the healing process for severe burn victims and patients with severe, slow-healing wounds.

HBOT for cerebral palsy is generally administered at a pressure equivalent to being 16.5-25 feet below sea level, in one-hour sessions. Studies have supported the benefits of HBOT in cerebral palsy patients, improving the patients' speech, hearing, and vision capabilities, while reducing spasticity by up to 50%.

Scientists theorize that the effectiveness of HBOT in treating the symptoms of cerebral palsy goes back to the root causes of cerebral palsy. In patients with cerebral palsy, the brain has difficulty communicating with the rest of the body, leading to the characteristic spastic, jerky movements. In some cases, where cerebral palsy is caused by traumatic head injuries tied to birth complications, a lack of oxygen flow to and increased swelling in certain areas of the brain causes these sections to fall into a dormant state. The hyper-oxygenated environment created by HBOT appears to promote a revival of these dormant areas and reduce the brain swelling by constricting blood vessels.

As with many forms of treatment, HBOT has proven more effective if administered in the early stages of cerebral palsy; however, some evidence exists which shows benefits for HBOT even years after symptoms first appear.

The risks of properly-administered HBOT are fairly minor. The most common side effect of HBOT therapy is ear discomfort, similar to the effect of rapidly ascending in an airplane. This is due to the pressure differential created by the HBOT's high-pressure environment. In very rare cases, damage to the eardrum may result if the pressure is not alleviated. Simple techniques such as swallowing, jaw movements, or the Valsalva maneuver are all able to equalize this pressure difference.