An Insight into Cerebral Palsy and A New Therapeutic Potential ©2012

by Joan J. McKenna, Research Physiologist

Some years ago, I met a fellow from Birmingham, Alabama. He had a spastic condition that had been diagnosed as Cerebral Palsy when he was about two years old. His father was a physician and would spend hours watching him sleep because he showed no spastic movements while he was sleeping.

More than two decades later, I was researching a system’s approach to biological events using a thermodynamic model of the effects of heat, pressure and motion as a matrix that organized biological phenomena. I remembered what the fellow with CP had said, and decided to do a preliminary evaluation.

I called seven hospitals and residential care facilities which had residents with CP.

I asked the night nurses to monitor the patients for a few nights to see if there were spasms or contractures during the sleep of the CP patients.

For three nights patients between the ages of five and twenty seven were observed. None showed spasms or contractures while they were sleeping. This indicated that the spasms and contractures were not specifically neurological damage but were related to the thermodynamic functioning of their bodies. As part of my research, I had found reports of the effects of radiation and other heating phenomena on nerve conduction. This research reported that when more heat was present, that neural transmission was more rapid and more frequent than unheated nerves. When the excess heat was eliminated, nerve function returned to normal.

Over the years, I have interviewed CP patients in terms of the frequency and severity of spasms based on fatigue, overheating, weather and time of day. There is a consistent pattern of spasms increasing as physiologic heat and environmental heat increases and decreased spamming when the body is cooler both during sleep and in early morning when the body temperature will usually be 1 to 3 degrees F cooler.

In the medical histories of the sample patients I interviewed, the onset of CP took place after a febrile illness in the child or in the mother during pregnancy.

While this is a common history among CP patients, I offer an insight that the underlying cause of the physiological distortion was not the fever itself, but the impact the fever had on the functioning of the hypothalamus, particularly as it affected the thermodynamic set point. The creation of too high a set point would have a cascading effect on other functions of the hypothalamus.

All other physiologic set points function in the context of the thermodynamics established by the functioning of the hypothalamus set point for heat. This means that neurological set points, metabolic set points, set points for body mass, growth, dehydration, and Hormonal set points are impacted by changes in the thermodynamic set point established in the hypothalamus.

If we evaluate the cascade of physiological change in those having a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, we can observe a clear relationship with disruption of the heat set point in the hypothalamus.

This has profound implication for therapies for those diagnosed with cerebral palsy. It may be possible to re-set the thermodynamic set point for heat and support normalization of other set points by first addressing the set point for physiological heat.

I have concluded that a significant number of those with CP may actually be experiencing an abnormal level of heat caused by the resetting of the hypothalamic set point. The resetting of the hypothalamus set point on temperature regulation impacts metabolic functioning, respiration, and may effect cognitive functioning as well.

I believe that a cooling protocol can re-set the hypothalamic set point and that even in adults; a beneficial effect will take place. I developed an experimental cooling protocol for adults with CP and combined it with some physical repatterning to allow a pattern of normal response to be induced.

Preliminary Experimental Protocol

Because of the dynamic interaction between the hypothalamus set point for heat and the functioning of set points for neurological, metabolic and neuromuscular activities, the procedures for re-setting the hypothalamus set point for heat required that all of the physiological and behavioral factors that impact systemic thermodynamics be considered. That is, food, exercise, emotional stress, and hormonal stimulation are minimized for approximately six weeks.

This may not be possible with all clients, but the initial procedures conducted on an adult woman reflect the approach.

The following experimental protocol was tested on a thirty four year old woman who had been diagnosed with CP at less than two years of age

As a child, the woman had had several surgeries to correct contractures in her legs, neck and arms. She had extensive physical therapy and was able to walk with a dragging gait. No mental impairment was evident and she went to school and graduated with a college degree. As an adult she obtained a position as an employee of the courts and served as a program consultant to various political and educational institutions concerning the needs of the disabled...

Her experimental protocol involved six elements:1

1The protocols given below are oriented to individuals who have the support of a physical therapist or who are in a program being run by Joan McKenna. To have technical support from McKenna, please pay the $60 PayPal charge which will entitle you to three technical assistance sessions.

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  1. Hydration: using de-ionized water, she was asked to increase her water intake to one gallon per day. This enabled hydration without stress to the kidneys or discomfort for her. Deionized water contains no minerals and does not disrupt normal functioning of the kidneys.
  2. Diet: she was asked to spend two week eating only fruits and vegetables and then adding in grains, fish and fowl. Small amounts of red meat were added in the fourth week. This dietary protocol was to allow optimal circulation and minimize the thermodynamic increase associated with protein meals.(Specific action of protein will elevate metabolic rate up to 30% and keep it elevated for one to four hours)
  3. Daily use of Developmental Movement Exercises (baby exercises) to re-integrate neurological, muscular and skeletal systems. The DME were taught in groups of four and the client was instructed to repeat the movements in sequence. Each movement was repeated twenty times on each side.
  4. Large muscle release and extension. Release of tension in long muscles by movement, first with assistance, then independently e.g. posterior legs, arms, chest. Heterolateral Movements of the legs focusing on the true center of gravity called "The One Point" in martial arts. (about three inches below the naval and three inches inside). This will be the pattern for normal walking. These exercises were based on the work of Françoise Mesieres, a French physical therapist.
  5. Breathing exercises: Inhalation with a gentle press down on the anal sphincter. Exhale and relax. Inhale and press, exhale and release. This is the breathing pattern of unstressed infants. Called “the Anal Press. Each inhalation allows for the elongation of the spine and opening of the chest to optimize both respiration and release of spinal tension.
  6. Mechanical cooling with "ice balls". See attached info. Iceballs are placed on the neurological lines of the neck. They allow a passive release of heat without alarming the hypothalamus or triggering thermo genesis.

The patient will feel both relaxed and invigorated using these procedures. Improvement in physical functioning would be expected to be noted in eight to ten days.

After muscles are trained to relax and movement exercises can be done without assistance from a PT, the patient can practice standing against a wall and pushing out four to six inches to have a full independent stance with balance through the "one point"

After being able to sustain balance without touching the wall, the patient should be instructed on moving their center of gravity up from their thighs to the one point and walking. It is recommended to use a narrow hallway or parallel bars for this phase.

The patient may be very excited by success. There may be others who are fearful of allowing the patient to utilize full unassisted walking. The PT must help educate about the need to reinforce the new pattern.

As with any program of recovery, there can be set backs caused by fatigue, illness or depression. Growth spurts are often accompanied by an increase in inflammation and a loss of coordination. Restoring normal physical functioning does not relieve patients of the stress and strain of human relationships.

The establishment of balance and normal walking patterns may distress patients who have identified with physical impairment as "who they are." They may be afraid of criticism for having awakened "normal" ranges of movement. This may require counseling and explanation to family and friends.

Depending on the history of the individual and their accommodation to the effects of cerebral palsy, surgery interventions and adaptation to physical distortions, additional physical therapy may be appropriate.

For additional information, please contact

Joan J. McKenna
Research Physiologist
3341 Bingham Place
Fairfield, CA 94534
(510) 684-6785