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What is Cerebral Palsy?​

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a lifelong neurological condition that affects movement, muscle tone and coordination. CP is caused by problems within the brain, developed before, during, or after birth. Individuals with cerebral palsy can live a fulfilled and more independent life with tailored and compassionate support.

Table of Contents

Meaning of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological condition that affects muscle tone, movement and coordination. It can also affect vision, hearing, and sensation.

The word ‘cerebral’ refers to the areas of the brain that regulate motor function, and the word ‘palsy’ means challenges with the muscles. So, a change in the brain during its development causes difficulties with a person’s ability to move and control the muscles.

This condition is one of the most common causes of motor disabilities in childhood. 1 in 100 children has cerebral palsy in the UK. The potential for cerebral palsy is higher for children with premature birth or low birth weight.

Most people are born with cerebral palsy, called “congenital cerebral palsy”. Cerebral palsy after birth is called “acquired cerebral palsy”.

A detailed explanation of the different cerebral palsy types follows.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, there are several different types of CP: 

  • Spastic cerebral palsy

  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy

  • Ataxic cerebral palsy

  • Hypotonic cerebral palsy

  • Mixed cerebral palsy

It’s important to note that the symptoms of cerebral palsy can change over a person’s lifetime. Knowing the effects and noticing symptoms earlier can help identify the right customised care and support.  

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most present type among people with this condition. Spastic cerebral palsy affects about  80% of people.

The characteristic is stiffness and firm muscles, making the movement challenging. This type is considered an umbrella term for three different types:

  1. Spastic hemiplegia – impacts one side of the body (usually the arm more than the leg), and a person with this type of CP can still walk. Challenges with speech are typical for spastic hemiplegia

  2. Spastic diplegia – muscle stiffness impacts the lower half of the body, so a person can still walk but with assistive devices. Arms are less affected

  3. Spastic quadriplegia –  impacts the upper and lower limbs, body, torso, and face. It makes mobility difficult, and often people cannot walk

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is characterised by fluctuating muscle tone and involuntary movements. People with this type of CP face difficulty controlling the movement of hands, arms, feet, and legs. They have a challenge with sitting and walking. In some cases, it affects the face and tongue, so it is difficult for a person with this condition to swallow or talk.  

The clinical diagnosis of Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy typically occurs within 18 months of birth. This type of cerebral palsy is further divided into two different types:

  1. Athetoid cerebral palsy – movements are slow, mainly in the face and fingers

  2. Choreoathetoid cerebral palsy – involuntary movements, mainly in toes and fingers

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy causes challenges with balance and coordination. Movements such as writing and walking can be difficult. People with this type of cerebral palsy also have difficulty controlling their hands or arms when they reach for something.

Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy

Hypotonic cerebral palsy reduces muscle tone and causes overly relaxed muscles. It can cause weak muscles, poor mobility and excessive flexibility.

Also, children with hypotonic cerebral palsy have difficulty speaking, challenges with reflexes, and difficulty with walking or sitting.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Individuals with mixed cerebral palsy have mixed symptoms of different types of cerebral palsy. Among the most common combinations is the one with spastic and dyskinetic cerebral palsy. Mixed CP is the most difficult to treat because it is heterogeneous and unpredictable in its development over a lifetime.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

Each person is different, so the symptoms of cerebral palsy affect people with this condition differently. Some people with CP may have more emphasised symptoms and need support and complex care, while others may have fewer challenges and less need for assistance and lifelong care.

The treatment plan is designed based on the individual needs of people with cerebral palsy.

It’s concluded that the symptoms of cerebral palsy may not get worse over time, but they can change over a lifetime. The typical and common symptoms include challenges and difficulties with movement, coordination, speech, eating, and development.

Now, let’s look closely at these signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Movement and Coordination

Due to changes in the brain, movement and coordination are mostly affected by people with cerebral palsy.

The most common symptoms of movement and coordination are:

  • Stiff muscles and strong reflexes

  • Variations in muscle tone, for example, increased muscle tone

  • Slow movements

  • Using one side of the body, for example, reaching only with one hand

  • Difficulties with fine motor skills, like buttoning clothes

  • Difficulty walking and tiptoeing


Speech and language difficulties are common in people with cerebral palsy. Some of the symptoms involve:

  • Delays in speech development

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Difficulties with fluency

  • Challenges with facial expressions


Cerebral palsy can cause difficulty with preparing and consuming food. The symptoms are the following:

  • Difficulty with chewing

  • Difficulty with eating

  • Difficulty with swallowing

  • Excessive drool

  • Challenge holding utensils

Motor Development

The signs and symptoms regarding the motor development of people that have cerebral palsy include:

  • Delays with reaching the motor skills milestones, such as crawling

  • Learning difficulties

  • Intellectual difficulties

  • Delayed growth

Other Challenges

The changes in the brain can cause other neurological challenges and conditions. Among them are the following:

  • Seizures

  • Difficulty hearing

  • Challenges with vision

  • Challenges with touch or pain sensations

  • Mental health

  • Emotional and behaviour challenges

Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Early diagnosis of cerebral palsy is crucial. With a personalised plan and treatment, a person with CP can live a better quality of life.

The diagnosis of CP is established through multiple tests. Among them:

  • Blood tests to rule out other conditions

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan to make images of the brain

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for images of the brain

  • Ultrasound for an image of the child’s neurological health

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) to rule out other conditions, such as Epilepsy

Later in childhood, the diagnosing process includes questions about:

  • Concerns about the child and the child’s health history

  • Physical observations

  • Monitoring of the child’s development milestones to see if a child has delays, such as motor or movement delays

Usually, children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed by the age of two. When doctors suspect a child may have CP, they recommend a specialist like a neurologist.

Once a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, treatment can begin. The treatment plan may include physical and speech therapy and muscle training. But each plan is customised according to the needs of the child.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is caused by problems in the brain, and those problems can happen before birth, during birth or after birth.

However, there are different possible causes of cerebral palsy:

  • Bleeding in the baby’s brain (haemorrhaging)

  • Reduced blood supply and lack of oxygen (asphyxia) to the baby’s brain

  • Infection in the mother during pregnancy, like Rubella

  • An injury to the unborn baby’s brain

  • An injury to the baby’s brain after birth

Some risk factors are associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy. Among them are the following:

  • Toxic exposures during pregnancy, such as drugs and alcohol

  • Low birth weight

  • Premature birth

  • Being a twin, or triplet

Cerebral palsy has no cure, but proper care and support can reduce the risk of worsening symptoms.

Cerebral Palsy Caused by Medical Negligence

Unfortunately, there are cases when a child can develop cerebral palsy during birth because of medical negligence from medical professionals.

Examples of this kind of medical negligence include:

  • Inability to detect or adequately treat infections

  • Inability to detect changes in the heart rate of the foetus

  • Inability to schedule or perform C-section

  • Improper use of delivery tools, such as vacuum extractors and forceps

Even though medical professionals are trained to provide high-quality care during birth, negligence can happen. In these cases of medical negligence, families can take legal action.

Associated Conditions with Cerebral Palsy

People can experience additional health challenges alongside cerebral palsy. Some of the associated conditions with cerebral palsy include:

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, and it is not a progressive one. This means early therapy and treatments for a person with CP can reduce symptoms, improve mobility, and prevent complications. Treatment for cerebral palsy may include:

  • Assistive aids like glasses, hearing aids, typing aids

  • Mobility aids like walkers, standers, wheelchairs

  • Medications based on advice from a doctor

  • Surgery is performed on muscles, ligaments, bones, and nerves to relieve pain and improve mobility

Depending on the person that has cerebral palsy, other treatments include:

  • Speech and language therapy that improves how to create specific sounds or use words properly

  • Occupational therapy enables a child to manage everyday activities

  • Physical therapy improves a child’s balance, coordination, strength and mobility.

  • Recreational therapy

  • Psychotherapy

  • Social services consultations

Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy

A person with cerebral palsy usually has an average lifespan.

Early diagnosis and proper therapy improve the life of people with cerebral palsy. Without early intervention, there is a risk of complications with some symptoms associated with cerebral palsy.

However, most children diagnosed early with cerebral palsy, with adjustments during the education process and later in the work environment, can have an independent life as adults.

Cerebral Palsy Care with LD Network

LD Network aims to care for and support people with complex care needs and transform care for the better. We believe everyone deserves to have a fulfilling and meaningful life.

We have many years of experience working alongside people with cerebral palsy. We customise treatment plans for people with cerebral palsy to achieve the best outcomes. Our committed and dedicated teams provide constant help and support so children and adults with cerebral palsy can function as independently as possible.

LD Network has offices at two locations: Bristol and Exeter. Contact us for more information and a personalised treatment plan!

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