Massage for Cerebral Palsy (CP) Santa Barbara, Goleta

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Massage for Cerebral Palsy (CP) Santa Barbara, Goleta

Massage for Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Cerebral palsy presents wide-ranging symptoms, so comprehensive management of the disorder includes several forms of intervention.  Massage therapy serves as a complementary treatment, reinforcing the benefits of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other CP care.   Benefits of massage therapy extend beyond physical structures, supporting a healthy mind, body, and soul.


Massage contributes to a balanced state of mind and is thought to enhance focus.  According to studies cited by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), massage therapy can help:

  • Reduce anxiety and depression – lending benefits similar to those gained during psychotherapy,
  • Increase brain activity associated with lowering anxiety,
  • Decrease hormones associated with increasing anxiety,
  • Decrease heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, and systolic blood pressure.

The positive impacts of therapeutic massage may also reduce the effect of attention-deficit disorders, helping young cerebral palsy patients excel academically and keep pace with school curricula.


The physical benefits of massage are not limited to the musculoskeletal system.  Various massage techniques also enhance circulatory and lymphatic functions, moving blood and releasing toxins.  Massage can also promote respiratory health.

Massage therapy improves range of motion, in some cases and relaxes muscles.  It can also have a positive effect on posture, reinforcing healthy structure and movement.  Dozens of variations target particular muscle groups, maximizing the therapeutic value of massage among those with CP.


As part of a holistic regimen, massage therapy reinforces physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.  Massage techniques are performed in relaxing settings, lifting stress and encouraging healing and balance.

Massage Therapy Benefits for Children and Adults with CP

Massage therapy has widespread benefits for children and adults with cerebral palsy.  In addition to physical gains, cerebral palsy patients participating in therapeutic massage may experience emotional and psychological improvements.  Medical massage may be recommended to:

  • Reduce muscle tension and stiffness
  • Increase range of motion
  • Relieve muscle spasms
  • Reduce stress and tension
  • Add flexibility
  • Stimulate circulation
  • Manage pain
  • Support overall health and wellness
  • Reduce swelling
  • Improve posture

In practice, massage therapists may use multiple techniques to achieve the desired results.  Deep tissue procedures are most beneficial for chronic muscle problems associated with cerebral palsy.  In contrast to various forms of relaxation massage, deep tissue therapy uses slow, deliberate strokes to release chronic tension.

By applying pressure or friction against the grain of the muscle and reaching deeper layers of tissue, massage therapists effectively reduce stiffness and spasticity experienced by children with cerebral palsy.

Massage therapy is a specialized practice.  Relaxation massage and medical, deep tissue massage can provide myriad benefits, ranging from a heightened sense of well-being to a host of physical improvements.  Specialists are trained and licensed, ensuring consistency across the field, but massage therapists do not:

Before settling on therapeutic massage, parents and caregivers should discuss its benefits with the child’s pediatrician and therapy team. Further collaboration with physical therapists familiar with the child’s needs maximizes positive outcomes.

It is defined as a disorder of posture and movement which is caused by a permanent and non-progressive insult to the developing brain. The permanent brain lesion that results in CP affects other brain functions apart from the motor area resulting in speech, auditory, visual and mental deficits but these are NOT part of the definition of CP. TA OGUNLESI (FWACP)

Definition of Cerebral Palsy

While Cerebral Palsy (pronounced seh-ree-brel pawl-zee) is a blanket term commonly referred to as “CP” and described by loss or impairment of motor function, Cerebral Palsy is actually caused by brain damage. The brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a child’s brain is still developing — before birth, during birth, or immediately after birth.

Cerebral Palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture, and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and oral motor functioning.

Cerebral Palsy is considered a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development. Cerebral Palsy primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination. Though Cerebral Palsy can be defined, having Cerebral Palsy does not define the person that has the condition.

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy is the result of a brain injury or a brain malformation. Individuals with Cerebral Palsy were most likely born with the condition, although some acquire it later.

It was once thought that Cerebral Palsy was caused by complications during the birthing process. While this does happen, it is now widely agreed that birthing complications account for only a small percentage, an estimated 10 percent, or Cerebral Palsy cases.

Current research suggests the majority of Cerebral Palsy cases result from abnormal brain development or brain injury prior to birth or during labor and delivery. Accidents, abuse, medical malpractice, negligence, infections, and injury are some known risk factors that may lead to Cerebral Palsy.

Cerebral Palsy causes physical impairment

An individual with Cerebral Palsy will likely show signs of physical impairment. However, the type of movement dysfunction, the location, and a number of limbs involved, as well as the extent of impairment, will vary from one individual to another. It can affect arms, legs, and even the face; it can affect one limb, several, or all.

Cerebral Palsy affects muscles and a person’s ability to control them. Muscles can contract too much, too little, or all at the same time. Limbs can be stiff and forced into painful, awkward positions. Fluctuating muscle contractions can make limbs tremble, shake, or writhe.

Balance, posture, and coordination can also be affected by Cerebral Palsy. Tasks such as walking, sitting, or tying shoes may be difficult for some, while others might have difficulty grasping objects.

Other complications, such as intellectual impairment, seizures, and vision or hearing impairment also commonly accompany Cerebral Palsy.

Every case of Cerebral Palsy is unique to the individual

Every case of cerebral palsy is unique to the individual. One person may have total paralysis and require constant care, while another with partial paralysis might have slight movement tremors but require little assistance. This is due in part to the type of injury and the timing of the injury to the developing brain.

Cerebral Palsy is non-life-threatening

With the exception of children born with a severe case, Cerebral Palsy is considered to be a non-life-threatening condition. Most children with Cerebral Palsy are expected to live well into adulthood.

Cerebral Palsy is incurable

Cerebral Palsy is damage to the brain that cannot currently be fixed. Treatment and therapy help manage effects on the body.

Cerebral Palsy is non-progressive

The brain lesion is the result of a one-time brain injury and will not produce further degeneration of the brain.

Cerebral Palsy is permanent

The injury and damage to the brain are permanent. The brain does not “heal” as other parts of the body might. Because of this, the Cerebral Palsy itself will not change for better or worse during a person’s lifetime. On the other hand, associative conditions may improve or worsen over time.

Cerebral Palsy is not contagious; it is not communicable

In the majority of cases, Cerebral Palsy is caused by damage to the developing brain. Brain damage is not spread through human contact. However, a person can intentionally or unintentionally increase the likelihood a child will develop Cerebral Palsy through abuse, accidents, medical malpractice, negligence, or the spread of a bacterial or viral infection.

Cerebral Palsy is manageable

The impairment caused by Cerebral Palsy is manageable. In other words, treatment, therapy, surgery, medications and assistive technology can help maximize independence, reduce barriers, increase inclusion and thus lead to an enhanced quality of life.

Cerebral Palsy is chronic

The effects of Cerebral Palsy are long-term, not temporary. An individual diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy will have the condition for their entire life.

Every case of Cerebral Palsy is unique to the individual. One person may have total paralysis and require constant care, while another with partial paralysis might have slight movement tremors but require little assistance. This is due in part to the type of injury and the timing of the injury to the developing brain.

Frequently Asked Questions

When a parent learns his or her child has Cerebral Palsy, they begin to define and understand the condition. Questions arise. Words such as disability, impairment, special needs, and handicap are helpful when used correctly. However, the same words – when misunderstood and misused – can be hurtful, offensive and harmful.

Is Cerebral Palsy an impairment?

Yes. Impairment is the loss or limitation of function. Impairment is a condition that limits a person to some degree.

Individuals diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy have a neurological condition which primarily causes physical impairment involving limitation or loss of function and mobility. They experience difficulty with muscle coordination, muscle control, muscle tone, reflexes, balance or posture. They may have difficulty with fine or gross motor skills. Their facial muscles may be affected.

Individuals with Cerebral Palsy often have associative and co-mitigating conditions that also impose additional challenges, such as a learning impairment, seizures, and vision or hearing loss.

A person can have impairment without having a disability.

Is Cerebral Palsy a disability?

Sometimes. A disability is an impairment that substantially limits a person’s ability to perform life activities within a range comparable to someone the same age and circumstance. A disability may include impairments that limit mobility, hearing, sight, and communication.

The term “disability” is primarily used to qualify a person fairly for government benefits, access to healthcare, special education programs, workers compensation, workplace accommodations, travel accommodations, or health insurance.

All individuals with a disability have an impairment. However, a person can have impairment without a disability. In other words, their impairment does not restrict them from performing a life activity. For example, a person who wears glasses or contact lenses to correct nearsightedness has an impairment, but does not have a disability; the impairment — nearsightedness — is correctable and therefore does not restrict performance. However, a person declared legally blind is unable to perform certain functions, such as driving, and hence is said to have a disability that restricts performance.

Is Cerebral Palsy a disease?

No. Cerebral Palsy is not a disease – it is actually a term used to describe a range of conditions that typically cause physical impairment.

Is Cerebral Palsy a handicap?

A handicap is a situational barrier or obstacle that limits activity or restricts participation, often temporarily. The World Health Organization defines two types of handicaps:

Activity limitations are difficulties an individual may have in executing a task or action.

Participation restrictions are problems an individual may have in involvement in life situations.

A handicap is apparent only when the barrier or obstacle exists. For a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility, stairs and narrow hallways may present a handicap. Ramps, elevators, and alternate hallways remove the handicap.

Today much is being done to remove barriers and obstacles for individuals with impairment. WHO and U.S. government agencies guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, collaborate with employers, retailers, transportation sources and private groups on a mission to identify obstacles and barriers. They also work to reduce or eliminate handicaps. These organizations promote inclusion, accessibility, and accommodation standards.

Do individuals with Cerebral Palsy have special needs?

Individuals with conditions that may require additional supports, help, or technology are generally considered to have special needs. The term “special needs” generally refers to the need to assist, support, adapt, modify or accommodate a person in order to provide barrier-free, equal access to experiences, events, buildings, information, participation, and inclusion that is afforded a person without disability or impairment. Accessibility and inclusion are rights afforded to everyone – with or without disability – to participate in activities of daily living, education, transportation, employment, travel, public spaces, and housing, to name a few.

Further Reading

For other sources of general information on the definition of Cerebral Palsy go to the following websites:

*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader. These statements are not expressions of legal opinion relative to the scope of practice, medical diagnosis or medical advice, nor do they represent an endorsement of any product, company or specific massage therapy technique, modality or approach. All trademarks, registered trademarks, brand names, registered brand names, logos, and company logos referenced in this post are the property of their owners.

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