Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a variety of different neurological disorders that appear in infancy and/or early childhood. It is a permanent disorder caused by a brain injury or brain abnormality and it interferes with a child’s development and motor skills. It is treatable, though no cure is available at the moment, so treatment is aimed at helping individuals with cerebral palsy function and live as normal a life as possible.
Goals of treatment often include:
- Optimizing mobility
- Managing primary conditions
- Controlling pain
- Preventing and managing complications, associative conditions, and co-mitigating factors
- Maximizing independence
- Enhancing social and peer interactions
- Fostering self-care
- Optimizing ability to communicate
- Maximizing learning potential
- Providing the best quality of life
Treatment options vary from person to person, due in part to cerebral palsy triggering different symptoms in each person. Doctors design treatment programs based on an individual’s:
- Type of disorder
- Movement issues
- Level of disability
- Presence of co-existing conditions
- Comfort level with a particular treatment
Children with cerebral palsy are treated by a team of medical experts with the aim of addressing all factors associated with the disorder. It’s common for a cerebral palsy medical team to include:
- Behavioral, physical, occupational, and speech-language therapists
- Developmental therapists
- Mental health specialists
- Recreational therapists
- Social workers
Children with cerebral palsy also usually participate in special education programs once they are old enough to attend school.
Treatment Options for Cerebral Palsy
There are drugs available that help treat the symptoms of cerebral palsy, as well as manage symptoms that might be present due to co-existing disorders. Medication is often used to lessen the tightness of muscles in order to improve functional abilities, ease pain, and manage complications related to spasticity or other cerebral palsy symptoms.
Some of the most commonly prescribed medications are intended to help with:
- Acid reflux
- Uncontrollable muscle movements
It’s also common for children with cerebral palsy to be prescribed medication to reduce drooling. Drooling medications include trihexyphenidyl, scopolamine, and glycopyrrolate (Robinul, Robinul Forte), as well as Botox injections into the salivary glands.
Physical therapy is one of the most common and most important treatment options available for those with cerebral palsy. Physical therapy addresses balance, flexibility, strength, mobility, and posture, and assists with the development of motor skills. It can help manage deformities in the hands, wrists, or knees, scoliosis, lumbar issues, pelvic issues, thoracic kyphosis, and other issues that interfere with a person’s ability to walk independently.
Surgery might also be an option for those with cerebral palsy. It can be used to correct deformities, help with mobility issues, and address feeding issues or hearing impairment. Some of the most common cerebral palsy surgeries include:
- Lengthening of muscles and tendons
- Transfer of tendons
- Muscle or tendon cutting
- Nerve cutting
- Bone removal
- Bone fusing
- Spinal column nerve cutting
Surgery can be effective for correcting issues caused by cerebral palsy, but there are risks and this type of therapy is not right for everyone. Your team of medical professionals will discuss the risks and benefits with you and help you determine which options are best for your child.
Many cerebral palsy treatments are completed between the ages of three and eight years old, though many treatments continue for life. Beginning treatment early ensures that issues are properly diagnosed and corrected as much as possible early on in life. This gives a child a chance to develop with as little interference as possible from the disorder.
Giving Your Child the Best Life Possible with Cerebral Palsy
Helping your child deal with cerebral palsy is essential to his or her healthy emotional development. Parents are encouraged to:
- Foster independence and encourage any effort at independence, no matter how small
- Serve an advocate for your child and see yourself as part of your child’s health care team. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
- Seek out support and find others who have dealt with the same issues as you and your family
We want parents to understand the importance of bringing to your child’s doctor’s attention any issues that could indicate a developmental issue, particularly if it could be related to cerebral palsy. The sooner treatment begins the better, and the better chance there is for you to take any necessary action regarding the incident that led to your child’s development of cerebral palsy.