Botox Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
BOTOX® (the brand name for a commercialized version of the Botulism toxin type A) works by blocking nerve signals passing between the muscle and the spinal column. In addition to Botox®, the same type of treatment is available using similar products such as Dysport, Myobloc, and Xeomin.
For more than 15 years, Botox has been used to treat crossed-eyes and twitching, as well as for cosmetic purposes to reduce wrinkles. Now, a more-purified form of the botulism toxin A is being successfully used to relieve symptoms of cerebral palsy.
Doctors use Botox injections on children with cerebral palsy in order to reduce muscle tightness, increase the ability of a muscle to stretch, and to decrease the likeliness of permanent muscle contracture.
How it Works
Doctors inject Botox into 3 or 4 small muscle groups particularly affected by cerebral palsy. The aim is to block the transfer of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for sending messages to muscle nerves which cause the muscles to move. By blocking acetylcholine, the Botulinum toxin alleviates muscle spasms. To put it simply, a Botox injection stops the signal between the nerve and the muscle, effectively relaxing the muscle and reducing stiffness.
Injections provide measured relief from spastic muscles for anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months. Once the muscles are relaxed, therapists are able to stretch the muscles and stimulate normal growth. Botox injections may improve a child’s range of motion, ease in stretching, tolerance to wearing braces and developmental gains (crawling, standing, or specific gait changes).
Over time, muscle neurons tend to “resprout” and re-establish communication between the nerve and the muscle. Therefore, Botox therapy is really only a short-term solution, and must be re-administered regularly. Right now, the long-term effects of receiving Botox therapy are unknown.
Prime Candidates for Botox Therapy
Botox therapy for cerebral palsy patients is primarily used during early physical developmental stages, typically between ages 2 and 9. This helps cerebral palsy children use their muscles more effectively and hopefully teaches their brains how to control their muscles without over-tightening them making them less useful.
Children under the age of six who have spasticity or muscle tightness (and have not developed fixed joint contractures) tend to respond best to this treatment. This is because Botox is most effective when used during early stages of spasticity while the child’s bones are still developing and before problems with bone development and deformity set in.
A Word of Warning
It’s important to understand that Botox is expensive, and the effect of the treatment is temporary. Although Botox is a toxin produced from the bacteria that causes food poisoning, when used in extremely small doses, it is relatively harmless unless the child is allergic to the toxin. That being said, serious complications (including death) have been known to occur in a few children, which has prompted further reviews of the popular anti-wrinkle drug.
Speak with your child’s doctor about the risks and benefits of Botox therapy, and whether or not it may be a good option for your child.