Many different conditions can cause motor disabilities and muscle tone problems in childhood. Among these, cerebral palsy is the most common.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a motor disability that can affect a person’s movement, balance, coordination, and posture. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor center of the brain, often due to injury or infection before or during birth.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy appear during infancy or preschool years.
Because there are multiple forms of cerebral palsy, symptoms vary. However, in most cases, the symptoms of cerebral palsy are associated with movement and coordination. Children and adults with cerebral palsy typically have challenges related to movement or posture. It may also impact speech or learning processes.
Below are some common symptoms of cerebral palsy. Not every child with cerebral palsy may have all of these symptoms.
In babies, there can also be specific early signs that a child has CP.
While the specific cause of cerebral palsy is unknown, most is related to damage or injury to the motor center of the brain. Most often, this damage or injury happens before or after birth and is called congenital cerebral palsy. However, a small percentage of cerebral palsy is caused by infection or injury more than 28 days after birth. Examples of these infections or injuries before or after birth include:
Cerebral palsy affects about 1 in 323 children, according to estimates from Centers for Disease Control.
Most cerebral palsy is related to damage to the brain that occurs before or during birth (congenital cerebral palsy). Some risk factors that may increase the risk for congenital cerebral palsy include:
Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed during the first or second year after birth. However, if the symptoms are mild, the diagnosis may occur later in life.
Diagnosis for cerebral palsy usually begins when the parent or doctor recognizes early signs of developmental delays. Often, a child with cerebral palsy will not reach typical developmental milestones – such as holding up their heads, rolling over, crawling or walking – or will exhibit unusual behavior when doing so.
In a baby 3 to 6 months of age:
In a baby 6 to 10 months of age:
In a baby over 10 months of age:
If early signs of cerebral palsy are present, the child’s doctor will run diagnostic tests to identify areas of brain injury. This usually includes brain imaging such as:
While there is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, orthopedists offer care to optimize their function and prevent deformities. Some of this care may include:
Additional treatments may include:
Treatment for cerebral palsy depends on several factors including the patient’s age, the type of symptoms the child is experiencing, and the severity of symptoms.
Cerebral palsy does not typically get worse over time. With the right services and support, many individuals with cerebral palsy can live healthy, active lives.
Children with mild forms of cerebral palsy have a normal life expectancy. Some factors that may affect life span include:
(Visit the Cerebral Palsy Research Network to find guides and tool kits for patients, parents and caregivers.)
Learn more about how cerebral palsy is diagnosed and treated at Hospital for Special Surgery.