Cerebral Palsy

cereberal palsy

Cerebral palsy is a general term describing conditions that cause movement problems. The most common type is spastic cerebral palsy where the muscles are stiff and rigid in one or more limbs. The underlying problem is damage to, or faulty development of, part of the brain. This usually occurs sometime before birth, during birth or after birth. Cerebral palsy ranges from mild to severe. Depending on the type of cerebral palsy and the area of brain affected, a child may not be able to walk, move, talk, eat, or play in the same ways as other children.In some cases there are associated problems such as learning difficulties and epilepsy.

What are the main types of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is classified into four main types - spastic, athetoid, ataxic and mixed. The type of cerebral palsy that occurs depends on the exact part of the brain that is affected.

Spastic cerebral palsy

This type of cerebral palsy occurs in about 7 in 10 cases. Spastic means that the affected muscles are more stiff than normal. Movements of an affected arm or leg are stiff and jerky. Some muscles may become permanently shortened and stiff. There are different words that are used to describe the type of types of spastic cerebral palsy. For example:
Hemiplegia - means that the leg and arm of one side of the body are affected.

Diplegia - mans that both legs are affected. Arms are not affected or are only mildly affected.

Quadriplegia - means that both arms and legs are affected. Arms are equally or more affected than legs.

Athetoid or dyskinetic cerebral palsy

This type occurs in about 2 in 10 cases. Some people with this type of cerebral palsy have slow, writhing movements of the hands, arms, feet, or legs. These movements cannot be controlled and so are involuntary. Sometimes the tongue or facial muscles are affected. The stiffness (tone) of the muscles can vary from too high to too low. As a result, people with athetoid cerebral palsy have difficulty in staying in one position. They may also be unable to use their arms or hands properly.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

This type occurs in less than 1 in 10 cases. People with ataxic cerebral palsy have difficulties with balance and fine movement. They are unsteady when walking. Fine tasks like writing would be difficult. The muscle tone is usually decreased.

Mixed cerebral palsy

People with mixed cerebral palsy have a combination of two or three of the above types. It is most often a combination of spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy, which results in stiff muscle tone and involuntary movements.

How serious is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy can range in severity from mild to severe. For example, a person with mild spastic hemiplegia is likely to be fully mobile, active and independent, but have a slightly abnormal walking movement (gait). He or she may have some difficulty in using one hand, and one foot may drop or drag. At the other extreme, someone with severe quadriplegia will be wheelchair-bound and need help with daily living tasks. Many people are in between these two extremes. The effect on the body is progressive the stiffness of the muscles in spastic cerebral palsy can gradually lead to permanent fixed contractures of joints in arms and legs. Some joints may eventually become fixed in a flexed position as a child becomes older. A main aim of treatment for spastic cerebral palsy is to keep to a minimum the effects of the muscle stiffness.

What causes cerebral palsy?

In most cases the cause of the damage to the brain is not known.Genetic (hereditary) factors may play a part. However, some factors are known to increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy:

Premature babies - in particular, babies born before 28 weeks of development.

Babies that are part of twins, triplets, or more.

Infections of the pregnant mother, such as rubella, chickenpox and toxoplasmosis, may be a cause in some cases.
Severe jaundice in a newborn baby can be a cause.

There is an increased risk of having a child with cerebral palsy in mothers who smoke, drink a lot of alcohol, or take drugs such as cocaine.

Less than 1 case in 10 is due to problems during delivery. For example, severe prolonged lack of oxygen during birth may be a cause in a small number of cases.

Problems can occur after birth. For example, meningitis or other brain infections that occur in young babies can cause brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy.

How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?

Babies with severe cerebral palsy may have signs at birth that are obvious. However, most children are diagnosed between the ages of six months and two years. The first thing that is usually noticed is that a child is not developing at the normal rate. The muscle tone may feel abnormal, or the baby may start to have abnormal movements.

A child with normal development will be usually be able to:

Sit unaided at six months.
Crawl by eight months.
Pull to stand by 12 months.
Walk by 15 months.

There are variations and some babies are normal, but late developers. However, a child who is late in these developmental milestones should usually be assessed for cerebral palsy. The diagnosis can usually be made by a child specialist, from the symptoms, signs and delay in development.

Additional tests such as a brain scan may be done.

Other problems associated with cerebral palsy:

About half of children with cerebral palsy have some degree of learning difficulty. The severity can vary. The other half will have normal intelligence or above.
About half of children will have some degree of speech problems. Sometimes a child with difficulty in speaking may be thought of as having low intelligence, whereas in fact they have normal or high intelligence.
 About 1 in 3 people with cerebral palsy will also have epilepsy.
Some children also have problems with hearing, vision, eating and drinking.

What is the treatment for cerebral palsy?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy but much can be done to limit the degree of disability that may have occurred if treatment had not been given.


The mainstay of treatment is physiotherapy. Aim of physiotherapy is to (prevent or limit the contractures and limb deformities and to enhance children's independence skills, such as moving on the floor, dressing and feeding independently.


Medicines usually have a limited role. For example, botulinum toxin injections (in conjunction with physiotherapy) are used in some cases to relax spastic muscles.

Children with associated epilepsy need medicines to prevent seizures.


Depending on the type and degree of muscle contracture, an operation may help .The aim is to give more flexibility and control of the affected limbs and joints. Most operations are performed on the muscles around the hips, knees, and ankles.

Other treatments and therapies

These may include: occupational therapy, speech therapy, vision aids, dentistry, communications aids, nutritional advice and promoting sport.

What is the outlook (prognosis)?

As mentioned above, the severity of cerebral palsy can range from mild to severe. It is difficult to predict the future for each individual case. "Will my child be able to walk?" is one common question that parents ask. This may be difficult to answer when the child is very young, but as a very general guide:

Almost all children with hemiplegia will walk.
About 3 in 4 diplegic children will walk.
Less than 1 in 4 quadriplegic children will walk.

This is very general. Your specialist will be able to give advice on your individual case. Also, treatment such as physiotherapy can make a difference to the eventual outcome.

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