The term “cerebral palsy” is not a specific diagnosis, but is now generally applied to children who experience some form of brain trauma either at the time of birth or shortly before. Typically, these children manifest some degree of cognitive impairment as well as physical impairment, often with weakness and spasticity of arms and legs. Typically treatment therapies for children with cerebral palsy have been directed at the physical manifestations of the underlying problem. That is, most efforts are geared to increase range of motion, reduce spasticity, and increase strength, along with specific therapies designed to enhance skills of communication and academic performance.
Evidence from around the globe is now accumulating providing strong support for the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) as an approach to the actual underlying problem in children with cerebral palsy – a technique which actually targets the abnormalities of brain function. The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in cerebral palsy offers an exciting new therapeutic approach for the treatment of cerebral palsy. In actuality however, hyperbaric oxygen therapy itself is not a new technique. It has been utilized for decades for the treatment of injuries related to underwater diving, and in addition has found great utility in the treatment of poorly healing wounds, burns, various bone disorders, complications of radiation therapy, circulatory problems, carbon monoxide poisoning, multiple sclerosis, head injury, and stroke.
The effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in children with cerebral palsy is likely a manifestation of enhanced function of previously damaged neurons. These neurons have been called “idling neurons” in that while they are still alive, they have been damaged to the extent that their function is compromised.
While it is important to recognize that hyperbaric oxygen therapy clearly represents an important tool in the treatment of children with cerebral palsy, it should be viewed as an adjunctive form of therapy to be used in conjunction with other established treatment protocols including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, as well as pharmaceutical therapy designed to reduce spasticity. The use of HBO in children with cerebral palsy is becoming more popular in the United States and there is no doubt that because of its profound effectiveness, its utilization will become much more widespread.