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Spastic Cerebral Palsy

What Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) affects muscle movement and control. People with CP have it for life.

There are different types of cerebral palsy. 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 cerebral palsy 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 cerebral palsy a child has can change over time.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy 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.

Cerebral palsy can be caused by:

  • infections during pregnancy
  • a stroke either in the womb or after birth
  • untreated jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes at birth)
  • genetic disorders
  • medical problems in the mom during pregnancy
  • being shaken as a baby (shaken baby syndrome)
  • brain injury during birth
  • brain injury from an accident (such as a car accident)

Premature babies (babies born early) are at higher risk for CP than babies born full-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 Cerebral Palsy?

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

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

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

How Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Most children with spastic cerebral palsy 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:

How Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy Treated?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy. 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:

Where Can Caregivers Get Help?

Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can feel 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 cerebral palsy 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. Then, as your child grows and his or her needs change, adjust the plan as necessary.

These guides can help as you plan for each stage of childhood and early adulthood:

Date reviewed: September 2018