Debra Wood, RN
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of chronic disorders that affect the ability to control movement. It appears in the first few years of life. Generally, the nerve damage does not worsen over time, but the muscle, joint, and skeletal effects can get worse without treatment.
CP occurs due to damage to areas of the brain that direct movement. This damage interferes with the brain's ability to control movement and posture. Other areas of the brain controlling thinking, speech, vision, or hearing may also be involved. CP may develop before, during, or after birth.
Factors that increase the risk of CP include:
Symptoms of CP vary widely. They may include difficulty with fine motor tasks like writing or using scissors, difficulty maintaining balance or walking, difficulty hearing or speaking, muscle tightness, and involuntary movements . The symptoms differ from person to person and may change over time.
CP first shows up in children aged three years or younger. Symptoms vary depending on what areas of the brain are affected. The problems can involve 1 side of the body (hemiplegia), the upper or lower body (diplegia), or both the upper and lower body on both sides (quadraplegia). Occasionally the face and neck are involved.
Disabilities can be mild to severe and vary from side to side and top to bottom. Although symptoms may change or progress slightly as the child grows older, the child's condition is unlikely to worsen significantly, especially with treatment.
Some people with CP suffer from other medical disorders as well, including:
Doctors diagnose CP by testing motor skills and reflexes, looking into medical history, and using a variety of specialized tests.
You may have your brain's electrical activity tested. This can be done with an
You may have pictures taken of structures inside your head. This can be done with:
There is no treatment to cure CP. The brain damage cannot be corrected. Therapy aims to help the child reach his or her full potential. Children with CP grow to adulthood and may be able to work and live independently.
Drugs help control muscle spasms and seizures, and prevent bone loss.
Medications may help:
Different seizure medications can be used depending on the type of seizure
Certain operations may improve the ability to sit, stand, and walk. These may include tendon transfers or lengthening, joint loosening, bone straightening, and nerve surgery.
Braces and splints help reduce muscle contraction, keep limbs in correct alignment, and prevent deformities. Positioning devices enable better posture.
Walkers, special scooters, and
make it easier to move around.
Programs designed to meet the child's special needs may improve learning. Some children do well attending regular schools with special services. Vocational training can help prepare young adults for jobs.
Speech, physical, and occupational therapies may improve the ability to speak, move, walk, and perform activities of daily living. Physical therapy helps strengthen muscles and improve fitness. Children can learn different ways to complete difficult tasks.
Professional support helps a patient and family cope with CP.
help parents learn how to modify behaviors. Caring for a child with CP can be stressful. Some families find
Therapeutic electrical stimulation might help increase muscle strength and range of motion.
Several of the causes of CP that have been identified through research are preventable or treatable:
United Cerebral Palsy
Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy
Ashwal S, Russman BS, Blasco PA, et al. Practice parameter: diagnostic assessment of the child with cerebral palsy: report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society.
Cerebral palsy (CP). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 7, 2014. Accessed September 9, 2014.
Cerebral palsy (CP).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities website. Available at:
Updated July 14, 2014. Accessed September 9, 2014.
Cerebral palsy: hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/detail_cerebral_palsy.htm. Updated July 21, 2014. Accessed September 9, 2014.
Hazneci B, Tan AK, Guncikan MN, Dincer K, Kalyon TA.
Comparison of the efficacies of botulinum toxin A and Johnstone pressure splints against hip adductor spasticity among patients with cerebral palsy: a randomized trial.
Johnson SL, Blair E, Stanley FJ. Obstetric malpractice litigation and cerebral palsy in term infants.
J Forensic Leg Med. 2011;18(3):97-100.
Nolan KW, Cole LL, Liptak GS. Use of botulinum toxin type A in children with cerebral palsy.
Park ES, Park CI, Chang HC, Park CW, Lee DS.
The effect of botulinum toxin type A injection into the gastrocnemius muscle on sit-to-stand transfer in children with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy.
Steinbok P. Selection of treatment modalities in children with spastic cerebral palsy.
10/30/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mergler S, Evenhuis HM, Boot AM, et al. Epidemiology of low bone mineral density and fractures in children with severe cerebral palsy: a systematic review.
Dev Med Child Neurol.
2/4/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Delgado MR, Hirtz D, Aisen M, et al. Practice parameter: pharmacologic treatment of spasticity in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Practice Committee of the Child Neurology Society.
7/30/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: United States Food and Drug Administration. FDA approves drug for chronic drooling in children. United States Food and Drug Administration website. Available at:
Published July 28, 2010. Accessed September 9, 2014.
8/11/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Azzopardi D, Strohm B, et al. Effects of hypothermia for perinatal asphyxia on childhood outcomes. N Engl J Med. 2014;371(2):140-149.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.