Cerebral Palsy can be summed up as several movement disorders that appear in early childhood. Most of the parents that get this diagnosis are usually confused and have more questions than they can get answers for.
What is interesting is that every child with this is very unique and everyone can be supported to fulfill their potential, goals, and aspirations. According to Finz & Finz, P.C. 1 in 345 children have been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.
Even more interesting is the fact that many interventions can help reduce the impact of Cerebral Palsy on the body. This means that you can improve the individual’s quality of life significantly.
According to Physiotherapists around the world, Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term for a group of disorders that affects one’s ability to move. This explanation tells us that not everyone with Cerebral Palsy looks the same and thanks to that there is a meaningful future for everyone affected by this. Since every individual has different problems, throughout treatment and support every one of them has a positive way forward in life.
What causes this Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is caused by the injury to the brain that can occur during pregnancy or sometimes shortly after birth. The reason this affects different people differently is due to different parts of the brain is injured but what is the common connection is that it always to some extent affects person movements. The reason for this is because the brain is the one that sends the messages to muscles when they need to move, in what way, and how much.
As we mentioned the majority of cases are thought to happen before birth or prenatally which is means that the underlying cause is very hard to determine. Exposure to radiation or infection during fetal development can be a cause of Cerebral Palsy. Sometimes Hypoxia can be a cause of this, and it means that at some point the brain did not get enough oxygen and it could come from the placenta not being able to supply enough oxygen and nutrients needed in the development stages.
Another thing we mentioned that in some cases it happens postnatal and the cases that are the culprit for that are head traumas during or after birth and again that infection that can happen any time, and the all-important oxygen deprivation or Hypoxia.
It is also important to note that a very small portion of cases happens due to some sort of genetic mutation. Yes, a very small portion, but it happens nevertheless.
A very important piece of information to have is that this is not one of those diseases that gets worse over time. No! Cerebral Palsy is one of those diseases that is considered a non-progressive one.
Cerebral Palsy is classified by the type of muscle movements that result from the brain injury and just how it affects the activities that a patient can or can’t perform.
According to that, the first type is called SPASTIC CP and it accounts for around 70% of cases. The characteristics of this type are tight and stiff muscles that can make the patients’ movement seem a bit jerky. This type results from a lesion that can occur in the upper motor neurons. When you have a lesion there then neurons there can’t receive inhibitory neurotransmitters. To simplify this – if neurotransmitters can’t be inhibited then those nerves get over-excited and lead to hypertonia or an abnormal increase in muscle activity which is the feeling of muscles being constantly flexed.
The second type is Dyskinetic or Athetoid CP. This one involves injury or damage to Basal Ganglia which is a structure that helps initiate or prevents certain movements. If it gets damaged patients can lose the ability to prevent movement which leads to having involuntary movements that are totally out of their control. It is characterized by Dystonia and/or Chorea. Dystonia is random, slow, and uncontrolled movements in the limbs and trunk while Chorea is random “dance-like” movements that move from muscle to muscle.
Ataxic CP is the type that makes patients shaky or uncoordinated. This type is caused by damage to the Cerebellum which helps us with fine and precise movements. The patients with this type of CP are often clumsy and with poor movements and often have poor balance when doing things like walking or picking something up.
Since it is so different from patient to patients, some other symptoms have been noted and those can be pain from tightened muscles or abnormal posture as well as stiff joints. Thanks to abnormal movements patients can have trouble sleeping at night which causes sleep disorders and with that eating disorders are not strange to CP. Other brain issues can also be associated with CP like speaking, vision problems and learning disabilities.
Since CP involves a permanent abnormality to the brain this means it is not curable, but it also means that doesn’t mean it is untreatable as well. Treatment of the CP usually involves a multidisciplinary approach. This means several clinical specialties like neurologists, rehabilitation specialists, occupational therapists, speech therapists as well as others, depending on the patient’s particular needs and situation. With these experts, one hopefully finds a unique approach to each patient and works toward improving their quality of life.
Physical therapy will aid with building strength, improving walking, help with stretching to reduce permanent contractures. There are also other types of aids that can be applied like the application of muscle relaxants or even a botulinum toxic can be injected into certain muscles to help with the hypertonicity and to help relax the muscles to lower pain or help with fitment into certain orthotic braces.
Sometimes surgery is utilized as well to help with issues like loosening tight muscles, straightening out bones that were under constant muscle pressure that cause them to do deform, or cutting certain nerves to reduce their associated movements or spasms.
Whatever the case be, or whatever the problem you might have, Cerebral Palsy is something everyone can make do it is just a case of making the right diagnosis at the right time, and searching for help. It, unfortunately, can’t be cured because of its nature, but it can certainly be toned down and mitigated to the point that patient’s quality of life can be brought to a new high.