What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?
“Cerebral” meaning “brain” and “Palsy” meaning “physical disorder” refers to a variety of neurological disorders that permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination/posture appearing in infancy or early childhood (majority of children are born with it). This disorder is not caused by problems with the muscles or nerves, but rather by abnormalities in parts of the brain controlling muscle movements. CP may result due to brain damage in the first few months/years of life, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, head injury from a motor vehicle accident, fall, or child abuse. Early signs usually appear before three years of age. Some early signs are: lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tightness of muscles, exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging, walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait and muscle tone taht’s either too stiff or too floppy.
Classifications of CP
The classification of the different types of CP depends on the severity of the child’s limitations as well as the body and brain parts affected.
- Spastic Cerebral Palsy — the most common diagnosis refers to muscle rigidity, jerky and movement difficulty. The three types are:
- Spastic Diplegia: tightness in the leg and hip muscles, crossing of the legs at the knees makes walking difficult (often referred to as “scissoring”).
- Spastic Hemiplegia: stiffness on only one side of the body, with the hand/arms more affected than the legs (limbs may not develop normally).
- Spastic Quadriplegia: the worst and most severe type affecting all four limbs (both legs, arms and body), with a high likelihood of mental retardation making it difficult for the child to walk or talk and may present with seizures.
- Athetoid Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy — is the second most frequently diagnosed type of CP presenting with normal intelligence, but problems with the whole body. Muscles may be weak or tight, trouble walking, sitting or speaking clearly, or controlling of facial muscles.
- Ataxic Cerebral Palsy — is the least diagnosed type and presents with trouble with fine motor skills such as tying laces, buttoning, cutting with scissors, and holding pencils/pens and writing. The child may walk with feet further apart than normal causing trouble with balance and coordination.
- Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy — caused by brain damage or malformation occurring during brain development, presents with muscle control problems early in life such as floppy head, inability to sit up and delayed motor skills development.
- Mixed Cerebral Palsy — term used when the child does not fit any of the above diagnosis.
- Congenital Cerebral Palsy — this is not a “type” of palsy, rather a term meaning “birth defect” that has developed during the developmental stages. This disorder is not an inherited condition or caused by a medical error.
- Erb’s Palsy (brachial plexus palsy) — can be attributed to a birthing accident that presents with no muscle control in the arms (arms will be limp without any feelings). The four types of Erb’s Palsy are:
- Avulsion: the nerve is completely separated from the spine.
- Rupture: the nerve is torn throughout but not from the spine.
- Praxis/Stretch: the nerve is damaged but not torn and could heal on its own.
- Neuroma: scar tissue from an injury putting pressure on the nerve.
Treatment for CP
Although CP cannot be cured treatment will often improve a child’s abilities. Many go on to live a near-normal-happy life as adults with proper care and management of their disabilities. Treatment may include but not limited to physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, suit therapy, neural stem cell therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, hippotherapy, aquatherapy, nutrition, exercises, drugs to control seizures and relax muscle spasms and alleviate pain, surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles, braces and other orthotic devices, wheelchairs and rolling walkers, communication aids and voice synthesizers.
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