Cerebal Palsy

Westley Brown

What is CP?

Cerebral palsy (also called CP) is a group of conditions that affects the parts of your brain that control your muscles. This can cause problems with movement, posture (standing up straight) and balance.

Some but not all children with CP also may have other conditions, like intellectual and developmental disabilities. These are problems with how the brain works that can cause a person to have trouble or delays in physical development, learning, communicating, taking care of himself or getting along with others.

About 1 in 300 children (less than 1 percent) has CP. Most children are diagnosed by the time they’re 2 years old.

What is Spastic CP?

Spastic means tight or stiff muscles, or muscles that spasm (get tight). This is the most common kind of CP. About 4 in 5 children (80 percent) with CP have spastic CP. These children have stiff muscles and may have awkward body movements.

Signs and symptoms of spastic CP include:

  • Tight muscles that do not stretch
  • Trouble walking, crossing knees, having a scissor-like walk or walking on toes
  • Tight joints
  • Weak muscles or no movement in a group of muscles

There are three kinds of spastic CP:

  1. Spastic diplegia. Children with this kind have muscle stiffness mostly in the legs. They may have trouble walking because tight muscles in the hips and legs cause their legs to turn inward and cross at the knees (also called scissoring). These children may need a walker or leg braces to help them move from place to place.
  2. Spastic hemiplegia. This kind usually affects one side of the body. The arm and leg on the affected side may be shorter and thinner than the other side of the body. These children often walk later than others and may walk on tip-toe. Some have a curved spine (also call scoliosis), seizures or speech problems.
  3. Spastic quadriplegia. This is the most serious kind of spastic cerebral palsy. It affects most of the body, including all arms and legs, the torso (the body’s midsection) and the face. These children usually can’t walk and they often have intellectual disabilities, trouble speaking and seizures.

Are there other types of CP?

Yes. Other kinds of CP include:

  • Dyskinetic CP (includes athetoid CP, choreoathetoid CP and dystonic CP). Children with this kind of CP have muscle tone that ranges from being too tight to too loose. This can cause uncontrolled movements that can be slow and twisting or quick and jerky. Children with dyskinetic CP may have problems controlling the movements of their hands, arms, feet and legs. This makes it hard to sit and walk. Some of these children also have trouble speaking. Problems in their face and tongue muscles may make them frown or drool.
  • Ataxic CP. This type of CP is rare. These children have problems with balance and coordination. They may be unsteady when they walk. They also may have tremors (shaking muscles) when they make quick movements or movements that need a lot of control, like writing.
  • Mixed CP. This is when a child shows symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.

How do you know if your baby has CP?

CP can be different in each child. Some children have mild CP. They may have some awkward body movements and need little or no special help. Other children have more serious CP. They may need a lot of special care their whole lives. CP doesn’t get worse over time, but its symptoms can change.

Some but not all babies with CP often have developmental delays. This means your child doesn't reach developmental milestones when expected. A developmental milestone is a skill or activity that most children can do at a certain age. Milestones include sitting, walking, talking, having social skills and having thinking skills.

What health problems are common for people with CP?

  • Constipation. This is when you have painful gas or it's hard to have a bowel movement.
  • Drooling
  • Feeling pain, especially in adults. Pain is most common in the hips, knees, ankles and back.
  • Problems urinating
  • Seizures
  • Throwing up
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing, sucking or eating
  • Trouble talking, seeing or hearing .
  • What causes CP?

    CP happens when your baby has brain damage or there are problems in how your baby’s brain develops. Most children with CP have congenital CP. This means they have CP at birth. In many of these children, we don’t know what the exact cause of CP is.

    Changes in genes that affect brain development may play a role in causing CP.

    How is CP treated?

  • Pediatrician. This is a doctor who has special training to take care of babies and children.
  • Child neurologist. This is a doctor who has special training in treating brain conditions in babies and children.
  • Social worker. This is a person with special training to help people solve problems and make their lives better.
  • Psychologist. This is a person with special training to take care of people with emotional or mental health problems, like depression.
  • Orthopedic surgeon. This is a doctor with special training do surgery on bones and muscles.
  • Physical therapist. This is a person with special training to create exercise programs for your child.
  • Occupational therapist. This is a person who can teach your child how to do everyday things, like eating, getting dressed and writing.
  • Speech and language pathologist. This professional can help your child speak more clearly or communicate in other ways.
  • Special education teacher. This person has special training to help your child with learning.