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Cerebral Palsy

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Cerebral Palsy



Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that make it hard for a child's body to control movement. It appears in the first few years of life.


CP is caused by abnormal development or damage to parts of the brain that control movement. This may happen before, during, or after birth.

Risk Factors

CP is more common in premature and low birth weight babies. It is also more common in multiple births, such as twins or triplets. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Infection in the membranes and fluid around the fetus
  • Injury to the brain from lack of oxygen
  • A bacterial infection in the blood of an infant
  • Inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord


Problems are different in each child. They may also change over time. The first sign is often when a child does not meet a milestone, such as rolling over. Signs often appear in children before 3 years of age.

These common problems may be mild or severe:

  • Problems swallowing
  • Moving the body without control
  • Stiff or floppy muscles
  • Problems walking or standing
  • Learning problems
  • Speech problems
  • Tremors


The doctor will ask about the child's symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The child's motor skills and reflexes will be tested.

Pictures of the brain may be taken. This can be done with an:

MRI Scan.

MRI of the Brainhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=23962396si2089.jpgMRI of the BrainNULLjpgMRI of the BrainNULL\\filer01\Intellect\images\si2089.jpgCopyright © 2002 Nucleus Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.23NULL2002-10-012553912396_11973Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


There is no cure for CP. The goal is to help the child reach their fullest ability. A team of specialists and lifelong care will be needed. Common treatments are:


A pregnant mother may be able to lower the risk of CP by:

  • Getting medical care early and often
  • Managing chronic illnesses
  • Getting enough fluids
  • Not using alcohol and drugs

Rehabilitation Services

Speech, physical, and occupational therapy may help a child speak, move, walk, and do activities of daily living. Physical therapy also helps strengthen muscles and helps with fitness.

Assistive Devices

Braces and splints may be used to ease muscle spasms and keep limbs in line. Walkers, scooters, and wheelchairs make it easier to move around.


Medicine may be used to help ease symptoms, such as tight muscles.


Some children may need surgery to help them sit, stand, and walk. These may be tendon transfers or lengthening, joint loosening, bone straightening, and nerve surgery.





  • Cerebral palsy (CP). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cerebral-palsy-cp.
  • Cerebral palsy (CP). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/index.html.
  • Cerebral palsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Cerebral-Palsy-Information-Page.


  • Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.