What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a developmental disorder caused by damage to the brain before or during birth. It affects a person’s ability to control their muscles. CP is the most common motor and movement disability in childhood. Persons afflicted by this disorder have problems with muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflexes, posture, and balance. Many also have related conditions such as: learning difficulties; seizures; vision, speech and hearing impairment; bladder and bowel control issues; and spinal and hip abnormalities. 


For every 1,000 babies born in the United States, approximately 3 will be diagnosed with some type of cerebral palsy by the time they are 8 years old. This results in 10,000 babies born with cerebral palsy every year, making it the most common cause of childhood disability.


The parts of the body affected by cerebral palsy, the level of severity and symptoms can differ for each person.  

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is classified according to the movement disorder involved. One or more of the movement disorders can occur depending on which areas of the brain are affected.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy (also known as athetoid CP and includes choreoathetoid and other dystonic cerebral palsies)

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Though Cerebral Palsy (CP) is classified into 4 different sub categories, all CP disorders stem from the same trauma: damage to a child’s brain before, during, or after birth. Some examples of how this damage occurs include premature birth, insufficient blood or oxygen supplied to the growing fetus, or temporary oxygen deprivation once a child is born. These events during a child's infancy have long standing impacts on a patient's adolescent and adult life. 

Spastic Cerebral Palsy (CP) generally develops as a result of damage to the brain’s motor cortex. This is a region of the brain which is responsible for controlling voluntary movement. It may also be caused through damage to the pyramidal tracts. These are the linkages that unite the left and right sides of the motor cortices. If only one side of the motor cortex is damaged, the patient may only experience spastic cerebral palsy on one side of their body. 

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy (CP) refers to cases of CP that result from damage to the brain’s basal ganglia and cerebellum. The basal ganglia has control of some motor functions, most notably eye movements. The cerebellum controls a person’s sense of balance and coordination between multiple movements. 

Chorea Cerebral Palsy (CP) refers specifically to cases of CP where the patient experiences abrupt involuntary movements. This symptom can manifest in multiple parts of the body, but the effect is especially prevalent in the extremities such as fingers and toes for individuals with Chorea CP.  

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy (CP) is caused exclusively by damage to the brain’s cerebellum. As the cerebellum is necessary for coordinating the use of multiple muscles in conjunction, patients diagnosed with Ataxic CP often suffer from difficulties with speech and basic motor functions such as walking. Because exclusive damage to the cerebellum is so rare, Ataxic Cerebral Palsy accounts for approximately 10% of the cases. 

Risk Factors: The presence of some risk factors may lead to increased chance of a child being born with cerebral palsy.


Cerebral Palsy (CP) results from a traumatic brain injury around the time of a child’s birth. However, for the most part doctors can’t diagnose CP until later, because the symptoms revolve around motor function.

Every child hit certain developmental milestones as they grow. When children fail to meet these developmental milestones, physicians can investigate possible causes. Doctors can use several tests to confirm their suspicions of Cerebral Palsy (CP).   

Current Treatments

As a result of CP’s chronic nature, individuals diagnosed with it will need long term medical care throughout their lives. The primary treatments to Cerebral Palsy (CP) focus on reducing its effects by reducing tightness in the muscles. 

OnabotulinumtoxinA, colloquially known as Botox, can be injected every three months to reduce tightness in the muscles. Common side effects of this treatment include discomfort at the injection site and symptoms that mimic the flu. Some more severe side effects include difficulty with breathing and swallowing. Botox injections can also be placed in the salivary glands to reduce drooling in patients with Cerebral Palsy (CP). 

Another method of reducing tightness in the muscles includes oral muscle relaxants. Drugs such as diazepam (Valium), dantrolene (Dantrium), baclofen (Gablofen, Lioresal) and tizanidine (Zanaflex) are taken orally (through the mouth) and serve to relax the muscles. Side effects of these drugs include drowsiness, blood pressure changes, and risk of liver damage. 

Physical therapy is also used to reduce the symptoms of Cerebral Palsy (CP). Muscle training and exercise can help with the child’s strength and, by extension, a more normal function. In some cases, physical therapy and the use of certain braces or splints can aid a child to walk whereas they could not before.  

For children with severe contractions or deformities, orthopedic surgery can be used to correct the position of limbs. Surgery can also rectify tendons which have improper length to reduce pain and ease walking for children with Cerebral Palsy (CP). 


Recommended Resources

Cerebral Palsy Group
Cerebral Palsy Guidance
Mayo Clinic
United Cerebral Palsy
United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia


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