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Spastic Cerebral Palsy

What Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect muscle movement and control. People with CP have it for life.

There are three types of CP, and spastic CP is the most common. Kids with spastic CP have stiff muscles. These may be in the upper part of the body, the lower part, or both. They can be on one or both sides of the body.

Other types of CP can lead to writhing movements (dyskinetic CP) or problems with balance and walking (ataxic CP). Some kids have more than one kind of CP. And sometimes, the type of CP a child has can change over time.

What Causes CP?

CP is thought to be caused by a brain injury or problem. In spastic CP, the injury or problem is in an area of the brain called the motor cortex. The motor cortex plans and controls movement.

A child might be born with CP or develop it later. The brain injury or problem doesn't get worse, but someone with CP may have different needs over time.

CP can be caused by:

  • infections during pregnancy
  • stroke either in the womb or after birth
  • jaundice
  • genetic disorders
  • medical problems for the mom during pregnancy
  • being shaken as a baby (shaken baby syndrome)
  • injury during delivery
  • injury from an accident (such as a car accident)

Premature babies (babies born early) are at higher risk for CP than babies born at term. So are low-birthweight babies (even if carried to term) and multiple births, such as twins and triplets.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Spastic CP?

Because their muscles are stiff, kids with spastic CP do not move smoothly. Their movements may seem jerky. Often, the muscles do not do what the child wants them to.

Spastic CP can be mild or severe. This depends on how much of the brain is involved. For example, a child with mild spastic CP might have stiffness in just one hand. Kids with severe spastic CP, though, might not be able to move certain muscles at all. They may need help eating and a wheelchair to get around.

Kids with all types of CP can have vision, hearing, speech, eating, behavior, and learning problems. Some have seizures.

How Is Spastic CP Diagnosed?

Most children with spastic CP are diagnosed in the first 2 years of life. Health care providers look for signs of CP if a baby is born early or has another health problem that's associated with CP.

No single test can diagnose spastic CP. So health care professionals look at many things, including a child's:

  • development
  • growth
  • reflexes
  • movement
  • muscle tone
  • interactions with others

Testing may include:

  • brain MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound
  • blood and urine (pee) tests to check for other medical conditions, including genetic conditions
  • electroencephalography (EEG) to look at electrical activity in the brain
  • electromyography (EMG) to check for muscle weakness
  • evaluation of how a child walks and moves
  • speech, hearing, and vision testing

How Is Spastic CP Treated?

There is no cure for CP. The health care team works with the child and family to make a treatment plan. The health care team includes a:

  • pediatrician
  • developmental behavioral pediatrician
  • occupational therapist
  • physical therapist
  • speech therapist
  • dietitian
  • neurologist (nervous system doctor)
  • ophthalmologist (eye doctor)
  • orthopedic surgeon (bone doctor)
  • otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor)
  • The treatment plan may include:
  • physical therapy and occupational therapy
  • leg braces, a walker, and/or a wheelchair
  • medicine for muscle pain or stiffness
  • special nutrition to help the child grow
  • surgery to improve movement in the legs, ankles, feet, hips, wrists, and arms

Where Can Caregivers Get Help?

Taking care of a child with CP can be overwhelming at times. Not only do kids with CP need a lot of attention at home, they also need to go to many medical appointments and therapies. Don't be afraid to say yes when someone asks, "Can I help?" Your family and friends really do want to be there for you.

To feel less alone and to connect with others who are facing the same challenges, find a local or online support group. You also can get information and support from CP organizations, such as:

Staying strong and healthy is not only good for you, but also for your child and your whole family.

Looking Ahead

Living with CP is different for every child. To help your child move and learn as much as possible, work closely with your care team to develop a treatment plan. This will let your child explore and experience the world in a way that is just right for him or her.