Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that results from brain injury or brain malformation. The condition causes abnormal motor control along with other cerebral palsy symptoms due to changes that take place in the brain. (1) Cerebral palsy symptoms can develop while an infant is still in the womb, during birth or at some point during the first year of life. Different forms of therapy are often included in cerebral palsy treatment plans to help improve motor control and quality of life.
Cerebral Palsy Types
- Spastic Cerebral Palsy – This is the most common type of cerebral palsy, which causes convulsions and abnormal reflexes in newborns or infants.
- Athetoid Cerebral Palsy – This type of cerebral palsy affects up to 20% of children with the disorder. It is characterized by slow, uncontrolled writhing movements.
- Ataxic Cerebral Palsy – A more rare type, characterized by trouble with balance, coordination, walking and depth-perception.
- Mixed Form – A child who has cerebral palsy symptoms of more than one of the above types is considered to have a mixed form of the disease. (2)
Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
- Convulsions, lack of coordination, clumsiness and spasming
- Stiffness and shortening of the muscles, joints and tendons
- Paralysis, typically affecting one side of the body
- Impaired intellectual abilities
- Trouble walking
- Developmental delays that affect speech, vision, hearing and language
- Trouble chewing and swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Crossed or wandering eyes
- Difficulty using hands
- Behavioral problems due to temperamental issues
- Seizure disorders such as epilepsy (3)
Cerebral Palsy Causes
- Inadequate blood flow reaching tissues in the developing brain, especially during early pregnancy in the first trimester
- Injury to the brain that occurs during labor and delivery
- Infection or illnesses that occur inside or near the brain during pregnancy
- Bleeding in the brain during pregnancy
- Illnesses that cause inflammation of brain tissue during the first year of life, such as meningitis, sepsis or trauma (4)
Cerebral Palsy Treatments
1. Physical Therapy, Stretching and Exercises
Cerebral palsy causes stiffness in the arms and legs. Physical therapy is often an effective cerebral palsy treatment that can help keep the muscles limber and strong. Physical therapy aids in movement and motor control, while stretching helps helps decrease the the hardening of muscles, which can lead to deformity. (5) Stretches and exercises that can help reduce cerebral palsy symptoms include:
- Strength-building exercises using exercise balls
- Resistance bands or free weights
- Sitting stretches
- Rolling over exercises for infants
- Use of swimming pools
2. Assistance Devices
Cerebral palsy treatment often includes assistance devices such as walkers, crutches, bracers, splints or a cane. These devices help improve mobility and functionality. When they are combined with physical or occupational therapy at a young age, assistance devices can help train the muscles.
3. Speech Therapy
Children with cerebral palsy are often affected by speech problems. Speech therapy is a common part of cerebral palsy treatment that can help children learn to better articulate their words. Speech therapy can also help children with cerebral palsy learn to use their tongue effectively and swallow food safely. (6)
4. Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy can be an effective form of treatment to help patients perform everyday tasks. This type of therapy focuses on tasks such as eating, dressing, bathing and preparing food. Occupational therapy can help patients with cerebral palsy learn to be more independent. (7)
5. Psychological Therapy
A cerebral palsy diagnosis can take an emotional toll on many families. Psychological therapy or support groups can help parents and other family members feel like they are not alone. This type of therapy can help relieve stress, prevent anxiety and teach parents how to best manage their child’s situation without feeling overwhelmed.