Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a term used to describe a problem with movement and posture that makes certain activities difficult. Even though someone with CP has problems moving his or her muscles, this is not because there is something wrong with the muscles or nerves. These difficulties are caused because of problems in the brain. The child might have had an injury in the brain, or had a brain that did not develop properly. These problems can affect the way the brain controls movement and posture.
Simply stated, “cerebral” refers to the brain, and “palsy” refers to muscle weakness/poor control. Although the brain itself will not get worse, people who have CP will usually change over time. Occasionally they will get worse, usually because of contractures of the joints or changes in the muscle tone.
There is currently no cure for CP, however there are different treatment options. These options include therapy, medications, surgery, education (such as Conductive Education) and support. By taking advantage of these options, people with CP can learn to improve their function and the quality of their lives.
It is estimated that two out of every 1,000 newborn children will develop CP. It is the most common motor disorder in children and is second only to autism as the most common disability in children.
CP does not have a single cause. There are many reasons why someone might have it. An unborn child might have suffered a brain injury, an infection, or abnormal development of the brain tissue. These are called “prenatal” causes, meaning they happened before birth. Other cases are caused by a brain injury that takes place during the birth process. But it can also happen after the child was born. This is called “acquired cerebral palsy.” Acquired CP happens when there is brain damage during the first few months or years of life. This damage can be caused by brain infections or head injury – usually from a motor vehicle accident or a fall – during the first few years of life when the brain development is still taking place.
Most of the time, the actual cause of CP is not known or may not be noticed for months.
There are many risk factors for CP. They can include: premature (early) birth, low birth weight, blood clotting problems, RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between mother and infant, infection of the mother in early pregnancy, bacterial infection of the mother, prolonged loss of oxygen during the birth process or severe jaundice shortly after birth.
But it is important to understand that even if a child does have a risk factor it does not mean that the child will definitely get CP.
For references, please see my collection of Cerebral Palsy in the top menu.