What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a group of conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination. It is not a disease. Medical dictionaries define CP as a “bilateral, symmetrical, non-progressive paralysis resulting from developmental defects in the brain or from trauma at birth.”

CP can be as mild as just a weakness in one hand, ranging to an almost complete lack of movement. Sometimes the movements of people can be unpredictable, muscles can be stiff or tight, and in some cases people may have shaky movements or tremors.

What are the causes of cerebral palsy?

Any damage to the developing brain, whether caused by genetic or developmental disorders, injury or disease, can result in cerebral palsy. The damage to the brain is in the region that controls and coordinates muscular action. Most often it occurs during pregnancy, labour or shortly after birth. Most cases of CP are called congenital cerebral palsy because they are related to the development and child-bearing processes. The condition is not inherited.

Acquired cerebral palsy, usually occurring before two years of age, is less common. It is usually caused by a head injury (motor vehicle accidents, falls, child abuse). CP can also be a result of a brain infection. Cerebral palsy, except in its mildest forms, can be seen in the first 12-18 months of life as it presents itself when children fail to reach movement milestones.

What are the types of cerebral palsy?

There are several different types of cerebral palsy which are grouped into three main categories:

Spastic cerebral palsy

This is the most common form of cerebral palsy. Spastic refers to stiffness or tightness in the muscles being relayed incorrectly through the damaged part of the brain.

Athetoid cerebral palsy

Uncontrolled movements that occur, most noticeable when a person starts to make a movement. People with athetoid cerebral palsy often have very weak muscles and feel floppy when carried.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

This is the least common form of CP. Refers to the shaky, unsteady movements and often causes problems with balance.

Mixed types

Many individuals will not have just one type of cerebral palsy, but rather a mixture of Spastic, Athetoid and Ataxic. The rarest form of mixed cerebral palsy is a combination of ataxic and athetoid. Regardless of the combination of symptoms, mixed cerebral palsy is usually caused by head injury (motor vehicle accidents, falls, child abuse).

How is the body affected?

This is different from one person with cerebral palsy to another. Certain words are used to describe the parts of the body which are affected:

Hemiplegia

Affects the leg and the arm on one side of the body.

Diplegia

Affects both legs and arms, but legs are significantly more affected than the arms.

Quadriplegia

Affects both arms and legs and can affect muscles in the trunk, mouth and face.

What are forms of treatment & management for cerebral palsy?

Although a condition does not progress, the brain injury is permanent. While cerebral palsy is not curable, training and therapy can help significantly. Management is a more accurate word than treatment. Management consists of helping a child achieve maximum potential in growth and development.

People with cerebral palsy can go to school, have jobs, get married, raise families and live in their own homes. Most of all, people with cerebral palsy need the opportunity for independence and full inclusion in our society.