Cerebral Palsy – an introduction

Basic Facts

Cerebral palsy is a condition affecting muscle control and movement.  It affects around 1 in 400 children in the UK, and is caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth, such as a lack of oxygen to the brain or an infection during pregnancy.  It is not progressive, and a range of therapies can help people with cerebral palsy to lead more independent and happier lives, but there is no known cure.  Children with cerebral palsy will usually receive treatment from a range of professionals in a multi-disciplinary team.  The incidence of cerebral palsy is not related to social background or to ethnic grouping.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are three main types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy – this is the most common form of cerebral palsy and affects more than 75% of people with cerebral palsy.  Spastic refers to the characteristic tightness (hypertonia) of the muscle and leads to a more limited range of movement.  The impact of this varies between individuals so that different parts of the body can be affected.
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy – in around 15% of cases – here the muscle tone switches from loose (hypotonia) to tight (hypertonia) with twisting, rhythmic movements. Speech can be difficult to understand due to the individual’s difficulty in controlling the organs of speech (tongue, lungs, vocal chords)
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy –  the least common form, present in just 4 or 5% of cases – is associated with a difficulty in activating the correct muscle pattern, leading to difficulty with balance and spatial awareness.

Many people with cerebral palsy have a mixture of these types and no two people with the condition are affected in exactly the same way.

Cerebral palsy is also often associated with other co-morbid conditions.  For instance, in 45% of cases, there is a learning disability with can range from mild to severe.  There are also often associated problems with motor control and musculoskeletal problems.

Recent research has also suggested that people with cerebral palsy experience secondary ageing earlier than other people who do not have cerebral palsy.  This can mean more pain and discomfort, more muscle spasms, osteoarthritis, poor motor control and joint problems and increased back pain.

Further Information

www.scope.org.uk – a great website with lots of very useful information on Cerebral Palsy

Related Articles on SCoTENS

Case Studies
Teaching Strategies