Understanding Cerebral Palsy

Understanding Cerebral Palsy

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Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and posture. It typically develops before birth, but can develop in infancy and early childhood as well. Cerebral palsy surfaces when something affects the developing brain of a child. Its exact cause is unknown, but possible factors include gene mutation, maternal infection, fetal strength, and lack of oxygen.


There are many possible symptoms of cerebral palsy, and it can vary greatly in one child to the next. For example, some children with cerebral palsy can walk, while some cannot. Symptoms surface in infancy or early childhood, and can include rigid or floppy limbs, impaired movement, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteady walking, exaggerated reflexes, and reduced range of motion. It is also possible for a child with cerebral palsy to have trouble making precise movements, experience motor skill delays, and have trouble with speech or eating. Some children also are blind or deaf


Testing for cerebral palsy involves a series of many things, including CT scans, brain ultrasounds, and an MRI performed to study the brain. Blood tests may be given in order to rule out other conditions. Various tests may also be performed to gauge movement problems or vision or hearing issues. The exact tests that are performed for a child with cerebral palsy depend on the symptoms that are displayed.


The care team involved in helping a child with cerebral palsy includes many professionals, including a pediatrician, physical therapist, speech pathologist, neurologist, and an orthopedic surgeon that specialists in muscle and bone problems. Treatments offered for children with cerebral palsy include braces or splints to help with walking, physical therapy to restore mobility, balance, and strength, medications (such as muscle relaxers) to reduce muscle tightness and reduce pain, and occupational therapy to allow for more independent movements and completion of daily activities.

In some cases, a child with cerebral palsy may need orthopedic surgery to correct severe deformities. Surgery may be performed on joints or bones in order to shift limbs into correct positions. Surgery can also lengthen tendons and muscles to reduce trouble with movement.