Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a general term used to describe a group of disorders that affect the normal development of movement and posture. CP is caused by an injury to the brain—such as infection, stroke, trauma, or the loss of oxygen to the brain—that occur before, during, or after birth or within the first 2 years of life. The injury to the brain is “nonprogressive,” meaning that it does not get worse after the initial injury. However, the day-to-day activities that can be affected by the injury during an individual’s childhood can worsen throughout the individual’s life.
Difficulties from CP can range from mild to severe. Individuals with CP may have trouble seeing, hearing, feeling touch, thinking, or communicating. They may also experience seizures.
CP affects approximately 3.6 infants per each 1,000 born in the United States. The number of children diagnosed with CP has grown in recent years as a result of the increased survival rates of premature babies and those born with low birth weights. The average life expectancy of adults with CP has increased as well. People with CP can benefit from physical therapy throughout all the stages of their lives.
The physical therapists at Alta Vista Wellness Center are experts in helping people with CP improve their physical functions. They can help them stay active, and healthy, and perform day-to-day tasks such as walking, operating a wheelchair, and getting in or out of a wheelchair to and from a bathtub, bed, or car.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a broad term used to describe the effects on the development of motor skills caused by nonprogressive injuries to the developing brain. Types of CP are given different names based on the type of movement problem and the areas of the body affected:
- Spastic involves increasing spasm of the muscles as the person moves faster.
- Ataxic involves decreased coordination and unsteadiness throughout the body.
- Dyskinetic involves unpredictable changes in muscle tone and movement that create unstable posture.
- Mixed describes a combination of the movement problems noted above (spastic, dyskinetic, or ataxic).
- Quadriplegia describes CP that affects both arms and legs, the neck, and the trunk.
- Diplegia affects either both legs (the most common form of the disorder) or both arms (less common).
- Hemiplegia affects just one side of the body.
Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy
Symptoms of CP differ from one person to the next. Symptoms might appear as early as 2 months of age and are usually seen before a child is 2 years old. Parents usually notice early signs that their child is not able to hold his or her head up as well as other babies, or easily reach, roll, sit, crawl, or walk.
Other symptoms of CP related to movement can include:
- Tight muscles that worsen with stress, illness, and time
- Tight joints that do not bend or stretch all the way, especially in the hands, elbows, hips, knees, or ankles
- Muscle weakness, or a decline in movements that the child had already been performing
- Lack of efficient movement of the legs, arms, trunk, or neck
- Lack of coordination
- “Floppy” muscles, especially in the neck or trunk
- Muscle tremors
Other symptoms of CP can include:
- Difficulty speaking or being understood
- Learning disorders (even though the child has normal intelligence)
- Vision problems
- Hearing problems
- Pain in joints that is often caused by tight muscles or poor posture
- Decreased mouth muscle strength or coordination leading to problems with eating and/or increased drooling
- Difficulty holding urine
- Slower-than-normal growth
How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?
Although a child’s pediatrician may identify a delay in movement development and refer the child to a physical therapist, physical therapists are often the first medical professionals to identify signs and symptoms of CP. The Laredo, TX physical therapist will:
- Conduct a medical history, asking questions about the parents’ concerns, the pregnancy, birth, and the general health of the child
- Perform a thorough evaluation that includes:
- observing the child in different positions to assess movement patterns
- hands-on assessment of the child’s muscle tone, strength, flexibility, and reflexes
- determining developmental milestones (how well he or she can sit, stand, or grasp objects)
Our physical therapist will collaborate with your child’s physician, who may order further tests—such as blood work, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (a CT Scan)—to reach a final diagnosis.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
A physical therapist is an important partner in health care and fitness for anyone diagnosed with CP. Therapists help people with CP gain strength and movement to function at their best throughout all the stages of life.
The physical therapist will provide care at different stages in the individual’s development, depending on his or her unique needs. The physical therapist will work with other health care professionals, such as speech/language pathologists or occupational therapists, to address all the individual’s needs as treatment priorities shift.
For more information, request a consult with Alta Vista Wellness Center in Laredo, Texas.