What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that involve brain and nervous system functions such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking.

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal development of the brain and/or damage to brain tissue. The disorder can be classified as either congenital, where damage occurred before or during birth, or acquired, where damage occurs more than 28 days after birth.

There is no cure for Cerebral Palsy, therefore management of the disorder is a life long process. Adapative devices such as communication boards and assistive devices such as wheelchairs can serve to improve functional independence.

Different types of cerebral palsy include spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic, and mixed.

Treatment of CP requires an interdisciplinary approach, a client with cerebral palsy may be under the care of the following

  • Primary Care Physician
  • Dentist
  • Social Worker
  • Nursing
  • Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapists
  • Neurologist
  • Other specialists, such as pulmonologist or gastroenterologist
  • Treatment is based on the person’s symptoms and the need to prevent complications.
There are several different types of Cerebral Palsy, each unique in their clinical presentation.

    • Spastic CP is the most common type. People with this type has increased muscle tone and stiffness, causing their movements to be awkward.
    • Dyskinetic CP involves uncontrollable movement. People with this type have trouble with involuntary movement with variable muscle tone.
    • Ataxic CP involves impaired balance. People with this type have poor coordination and control with fine motor activities.
    • Mixed CP involves symptoms of more than one type. For example, spastic-dyskinetic CP.
There are a variety of symptoms and issues that arise in a person with CP. These are a few of the common symptoms;

  • Increased muscle tightness and stiffness
  • Abnormal walking patterns, such as “toe walking” or “scissoring”
  • Muscle weakness and/or paralysis
  • Decrease muscle tone and ‘floppy’ muscles
  • Increased drooling and difficulty speaking
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Double vision, seizures, and/or severe headaches
Complications may occur with a lack of early intervention or prevention measures (through medical means or via therapy). Some may include the following;

  • Joint Contractures, where a joint does not fully bend or straighten
  • Dislocation of the hips or shoulders
  • Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bone
  • Fractures related to falls and/or osteoporosis
Cerebral Palsy can be congenital or acquired. In either case, the root of this diagnosis is damage to the brain. A few known causes include the following;

  • Brain infection (ie encephalitis, meningitis, herpes simplex)
  • Infection that occurred during pregnancy
  • Complications that occurred during pregnancy
  • Severe jaundice
  • Premature birth and/or low birthweight
  • Brain injury due to trauma
  • Abnormalities with blood flow to brain