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Child Neurology Consultants of Austin

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurologic (brain) disorders that affects the way the brain communicates with muscles. This can lead to lifelong challenges with movement, strength, and balance. CP is typically characterized by muscle tightness, also known as spasticity. It is most often diagnosed at a very early age and occurs in about three out of every 1,000 babies born.

There are three different types of CP:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy: This is the most common type of CP involving spasticity, or resistance, when trying to move an arm or leg.
  • Dystonic (or athetoid) cerebral palsy: Dystonic movements are uncontrolled, purposeless, and often rigid in nature that can occur in the arms, legs, or back.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy: Ataxia is difficulty with coordination of movement and can affect any part of the body. It may appear as if the child is clumsy or always off balance.

Overview of Cerebral Palsy

Causes & Symptoms

The specific cause of cerebral palsy is often unknown. It occurs when there is abnormal development or damage to areas of the brain that control movement. These issues usually develop when the baby is still in the womb, but can happen at any time during birth or the first few years of life.

Many factors can increase the risk for CP including:

  • Prematurity
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Low birth weight
  • Infections of the body or brain
  • Substance abuse or trauma during pregnancy

Common symptoms of CP are:

  • Weakness or stiffness in certain parts of the body
  • Delayed developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling, walking, or talking
  • Uncontrolled shaking in arms and legs
  • Difficulty with eating or drinking, and poor weight gain
  • Frequent lung infections
  • Difficulty with learning, focus, or behavior
  • Problems with hearing or speaking
  • Vision or eye problems (being “cross-eyed” or having a “lazy eye”)
  • Seizures
  • Curvature of the spine (called scoliosis)

Diagnosis

As there is no specific test for CP, a diagnosis is made through medical history and a physical exam. A definitive diagnosis is often delayed until a child is at least 6 to 12 months, as babies develop and change so rapidly during this early time. Additional information is sometimes gathered via an MRI (magnetic resonance image) scan to capture brain images, or through genetic and metabolic testing.  

Treatment

There is currently no cure for CP, but there are treatments to help minimize symptoms.

Physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapy are the most important treatments, as they encourage and/or support movement, mobility, motor skills, and speech.

Equipment such as leg braces, walkers, or wheelchairs can also greatly help with mobility.

Muscle tightness can be managed with medications or Botox®, a purified substance derived from bacteria that is injected directly into the affected muscle group. Botox can provide relief by temporarily relaxing the muscle and allowing it to stretch. Electrical stimulation can alleviate muscle tightness as well.

In some cases, surgery is a good option to help increase movement and positioning of joints in the arms, legs, hips or back.

(Adapted from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; KidsHealth; and CerebralPalsy.org.)


To schedule an appointment with a pediatric neurologist in Central Texas, call (512) 494-4000 or request an appointment online. Our fellowship-trained specialists see and treat children with spasticity and cerebral palsy in Austin (Far West) and Cedar Park, Texas.