Cerebral Palsy


Cerebral palsy is a nonprogressive movement disorder that causes permanent motor disabilities. It occurs in 3:1000 live births in the United States annually. Although it is considered a motor disorder, the symptoms of cerebral palsy are due to brain damage that occurs either in utero, during birth or within the first 2 years of life. Birth asphyxia was thought to be the primary cause of cerebral palsy; however, birth complications, including asphyxia, account for less than 10% of all known cases. The aetiology of the remaining 90% of cerebral palsy cases is unknown, suggesting that an undetected or undiagnosed in utero event is the primary cause. Many maternal risk factors have been identified, including multiple births, toxin exposure and high blood pressure. Fetal stroke and inflammation due to maternal infection may also play a role. There is no cure, only management of symptoms. Treatment includes various therapies as well as pharmaceuticals to decrease symptoms. Surgery may also be an option. Current research is investigating both the cause of and treatments for cerebral palsy with some recent promising results.

Key Concepts:

  • Cerebral palsy is a nonprogressive movement disorder.

  • It is identified by a typical pattern of brain injury to the motor regions of the brain, often before birth.

  • The different types of cerebral palsy are named after their location and symptoms.

  • The cause of cerebral palsy is unknown; however, many risk factors have been identified.

  • Treatment involves symptom management.

  • Research is currently focused on early detection, a potential cure and better symptoms management.

Keywords: neonatal brain damage; movement disorder; spasticity; foetal stroke; hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy; asphyxia

Figure 1.

Regions of the brain damaged in cerebral palsy. Top: The motor cortex (red) is the main area where movements are generated. It communicates with the spinal cord to cause a voluntary muscle movement. When this area is damaged in a developing fetus, it results in spastic cerebral palsy. The cerebellum (blue) is a brain region that is important for smooth motor movement. If this area is damaged, movements become choppy and uncoordinated, known as ataxic cerebral palsy. Bottom: The basal ganglia (purple) are a group of brain nuclei that work together to modulate movements. When they are damaged, excessive movement may occur, known as athetoid cerebral palsy, and result in a writhing type of movement.



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Further Reading

Levitt S (2010) Treatment of Cerebral Palsy and Motor Delay, 5th edn, pp. 368. ISBN‐10: 1405176164, ISBN‐13: 978‐1405176163.

Martin S (2006) Teaching Motor Skills to Children With Cerebral Palsy and Similar Movement Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, 1st edn. ISBN‐10: 1890627720, ISBN‐13: 978‐1890627720.

Miller F and Brown E (2005) Cerebral Palsy, 1st edn, pp. 1070. ISBN‐10: 0387204377, ISBN‐13: 978‐0387204376.

NINDS (2009) Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research. NIH Publication No. 10‐159.

Stanton M (2012) Understanding Cerebral Palsy: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (JKP Essentials), 1st edn, pp. 208. ISBN‐10: 1849050600, ISBN‐13: 978‐1849050609.

Web Links

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Cerebral Palsy (2011) Accessed on 23 March 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dd/ddcp.htm

Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation (2011) Accessed on 2 April 2012. http://www.cpirf.org/

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2011) Accessed on 23 March 2012. www.ninds.nih.gov

Shriners Hospitals for Children. http://www. shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/CareAndTreatment/ Orthopaedics/CerebralPalsy.aspx

United Cerebral Palsy (2012) Accessed on 2 April 2012. http://www.ucp.org/

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Feather, Danielle N, and Ferguson, Tanya S(Nov 2012) Cerebral Palsy. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0024021]