What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Raising child with cerebral palsy

What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a collection of neurological disorders that typically emerge during infancy or early childhood and have a lasting impact on body movement and muscle coordination. It primarily affects the motor region of the brain’s outer layer, known as the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for controlling muscle movements, thereby influencing posture and balance.

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Individuals with cerebral palsy display a diverse range of symptoms, which include:

  • Lack of muscle coordination during voluntary movements (ataxia).
  • Stiff or tense muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity).
  • Weakness in one or more arms or legs.
  • Walking on tiptoes, adopting a stooped gait, or exhibiting a “scissored” gait.
  • Fluctuations in muscle tone, either excessive stiffness or excessive floppiness.
  • Excessive drooling or difficulties with swallowing or speaking.
    Shaking (tremor) or sporadic involuntary movements.
  • Delayed attainment of motor skill milestones and challenges with precise movements like writing or buttoning a shirt.

According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average prevalence of cerebral palsy is approximately 3.3 children per 1,000 live births.

Cerebral Palsy Brain scan chart

What causes cerebral palsy?

The exact causes of cerebral palsy are not always known, but there are several factors that can contribute to its development. Here are some of the known causes and risk factors:

  • Prenatal factors: Certain prenatal conditions or events can increase the risk of cerebral palsy. These include infections during pregnancy (such as rubella, cytomegalovirus, or toxoplasmosis), maternal health issues (such as high blood pressure or thyroid problems), exposure to toxins or medications, and insufficient oxygen supply to the baby’s brain.
  • Perinatal factors: Complications during the birth process can also contribute to cerebral palsy. These include premature birth, low birth weight, multiple births (twins, triplets), difficult or prolonged labour, umbilical cord problems, and maternal infections during labour.
  • Postnatal factors: After birth, certain factors can increase the risk of cerebral palsy. These include brain infections (such as meningitis or encephalitis), head injuries, stroke, severe jaundice, and untreated or poorly managed seizures.

It’s important to note that in many cases, the specific cause of cerebral palsy remains unknown. Additionally, the condition can result from a combination of multiple factors rather than a single cause. Each individual case of cerebral palsy may have a unique combination of risk factors and causes.

What are the forms of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is classified according to the type of movement disorder involved – spastic (stiff muscles), athetoid (writhing movements), or ataxic (poor balance and coordination) – plus any additional symptoms, such as weakness (paresis) or paralysis (plegia). Common forms of cerebral palsy are:

  • Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis typically affects the arm and hand on one side of the body, but it can also include the leg.
  • Spastic diplegia/diparesis involves muscle stiffness predominantly in the legs and less severely affects the arms and face, although the hands may be clumsy.
  • Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis is the most severe form of cerebral palsy and is often associated with moderate-to-severe intellectual disability.
  • Dyskinetic (includes athetoid, choreoathetosis, and dystonic cerebral palsies) is characterized by slow and uncontrollable writhing or jerky movements of the hands, feet, arms, or legs.
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy affects balance and depth perception.
  • Mixed types of cerebral palsy refer to symptoms that don’t correspond to any single type of CP but are a mix of types.


Cerebral palsy can’t be cured, but treatment will often improve the condition. Treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Oral medications
  • Orthopaedic surgeries

Child with cerebral palsy in wheelchair

The prognosis for Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is non-progressive, meaning the brain damage does not worsen. The intellectual level varies from genius to intellectually impaired, as it does in the general population. The ability to live independently varies widely, depending on the severity of each person’s impairment. Life expectancy may also vary depending on the severity of their condition and the quality of care they are provided. However, many with cerebral palsy live full, engaged lives.

Arthrogryposis treatment includes occupational therapy, physical therapy, splinting, and surgery. These treatments aim to increase joint mobility and muscle strength and the development of adaptive use patterns that allow for walking and independence with activities of daily living. Since arthrogryposis includes many different types, the treatment varies between patients depending on the symptoms. Surgical techniques may also be used.

Mobility for those with Cerebral Palsy

Many with more severe forms of cerebral palsy require a power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab, a global leader in advanced powerchairs, specialises in adapted powerchairs. Quantum’s powerchair technology for cerebral palsy addresses aspects like power seating for re-positioning and pressure relief, customised seating surfaces adapted to unique posture; and special drive controls for those with limited coordination, allowing powerchair operation with virtually any part of the body.

ICON Rehab Powerchair

ICON Rehab Powerchair UK

Quantum Q6 Edge 2 Powerchair

Quantum Q6 Edge 2 Powerchair profile

Assistive technology and mobility options for Cerebral Palsy

The severity of the condition and mobility needs may vary. Some may only have an affected gait, while others may require assistive technology for independent mobility.

Mobility options

  • Clients with milder impairments may only need the use of a walker or braces for independent mobility.

Power mobility devices

  • Clients requiring power mobility devices should undergo an early evaluation to promote independence and social interaction, as well as to explore their environment fully.

Power base and seating considerations

  • The power base should be selected based on the individual’s specific seating, positioning, and electronics needs.
  • Power positioning systems, such as power tilt, power recline, and power tilt and recline, may be necessary for enhanced comfort and functionality.
  • A customized seating system is crucial for compensating for asymmetries, managing tone, and providing stability, support, and pressure management.

Modularity and adaptability

  • Seating system should be modular to accommodate changes over time, such as growth, weight fluctuations, therapeutic interventions, and ageing with a disability.
  • Modularity ensures that the individual’s evolving needs can be met effectively.


Some clients with cerebral palsy with more advanced mobility needs may benefit from a power base that can accept full seating and positioning options. The Q6 Edge 2 and Edge 3 Powerchairs (electronic wheelchairs) fit these criteria by possessing a proven track record of quality, reliability and customer satisfaction. All chairs in the series can accept expandable electronics to allow for individual customisation.

Related Reading: What Is Spinal Muscular Atrophy?​

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