Cerebral Palsy

What is it?

Cerebral Palsy, also known as CP, is a medical term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the normal development of movement and posture. In CP, the brain’s typical development is interrupted by trauma of some sort, such as infection, stroke, head injury, loss of oxygen to the brain, etc. This causes normal development to halt. In CP, this trauma to the brain occurs between conception and 2 years of age. Although the actual damage to the brain does not progress with age, conditions of individuals with CP can decline throughout their lifetimes due to secondary factors. The difficulties associated with CP are present throughout a pretty large range from very mild to quite severe and can impact: hearing, sight, touch, thinking, and communication ability. The specific type of CP that an individual has is named based on the movement problem that they have as well as the part of the body that is effected using the terms below:

  • Spastic– involves muscle spasms with increased movement
  • Ataxic- decreased coordination throughout the body
  • Dyskinetic– unpredictable changes in muscle tone and movement. Very unstable posture.
  • Mixed– combination of movement problems associated with spastic, ataxic, and dyskinetic
  • Quadriplegia– affects arms, legs, neck, and trunk
  • Diplegia– affects either both legs or both arms
  • Hemiplegia– affects just one side of the body

Symptoms of CP:

  • tight muscles that worsen with illness, stress, and time
  • tight joints that do not have full range of motion, especially at the hands, elbows, hips, knees, or ankles
  • muscle weakness and/or a decline in movement patterns and achievements
  • lack of coordination
  • muscle tremors
  • lack of efficient movement of the extremities
  • problems with hearing, vision, language
  • seizures
  • learning disorders

How can a Physical Therapist Help?

Since movement patterns, strength, and coordination are heavily impacted by CP, physical therapy is an integral part of the treatment plan. Physical Therapists can help to increase strength, loosen stiff joints and muscles, increase flexibility, improve balance, and improve over all muscle movement patterns. This is done through a combination of manual therapy, exercises, stretching, and modalities. For individuals who have a difficult time with traditional physical therapy, aquatic physical therapy can be extremely beneficial. Aquatic physical therapy allows for the joints to be unloaded by the buoyancy of the water, making it easier to move and strengthen weak muscles.

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