Cerebral palsy — also known as CP — is a condition caused by injury to the parts of the brain that control our ability to use our muscles and bodies. Cerebral means having to do with the brain, while palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. Often the injury happens before birth, sometimes during delivery, or, soon after being born.
CP can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild CP may mean a child is clumsy, whereas Moderate CP may mean the child walks with a limp and he or she may need a special leg brace or a cane. More severe CP can affect all parts of a child’s physical abilities. A child with moderate or severe CP may have to use a wheelchair and other special equipment.
Sometimes children with CP can also have learning problems, problems with hearing or seeing (called sensory problems), or intellectual disabilities. Usually, the greater the injury to the brain, the more severe the CP. However, CP doesn’t get worse over time, and most children with CP have a normal lifespan.
How common is CP?
Cerebral palsy occurs in approximately 2 per 1000 live births. This frequency rate hasn’t changed in more than four decades, even with the significant advances in the medical care of newborns.
What are the types of CP?
There are four main types of CP:
Spastic CP is where there is too much muscle tone or tightness. Movements are stiff, especially in the legs, arms, and/or back. Children with this form of CP move their legs awkwardly, turning in or scissoring their legs as they try to walk. This form of CP occurs in 50-75% of all cases.
Athetoid CP (also called dyskinetic CP) can affect movements of the entire body. Typically, this form of CP involves slow, uncontrolled body movements and low muscle tone that makes it hard for the person to sit straight and walk. This form occurs in 10-20% of all cases.
Ataxic CP involves poor coordination, balance, and depth perception and occurs in approximately 5-10% of all cases.
Mixed CP is a combination of the symptoms listed above. A child with mixed CP has both high and low tone muscle. Some muscles are too tight, and others are too loose, creating a mix of stiffness and involuntary movements.
More words used to describe the different types of CP include:
Diplegia: This means only the legs are affected.
Hemiplegia: This means one half of the body (such as the right arm and leg) is affected.
Quadriplegia: This means both arms and legs are affected, sometimes including the facial muscles and torso.
Common symptoms of Cerebral Palsy
Children with CP exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, including:
lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia);
stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity);
weakness in one or more arm or leg;
walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait;
variations in muscle tone, either too stiff or too floppy;
excessive drooling or difficulties swallowing or speaking;
shaking (tremor) or random involuntary movements;
delays in reaching motor skill milestones; and
difficulty with precise movements such as writing or buttoning a shirt.
The symptoms of CP differ in type and severity from one person to the next, and may even change in an individual over time. Symptoms may vary greatly among individuals, depending on which parts of the brain have been injured.
All people with cerebral palsy have problems with movement and posture, and some also have some level of intellectual disability, seizures, and abnormal physical sensations or perceptions, as well as other medical disorders. People with CP also may have impaired vision or hearing, and language, and speech problems.