How Cerebral Palsy Is Treated

Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but some of the symptoms can be managed and most of the health complications can be prevented with advanced planning. The quality of life of children and adults with cerebral palsy can be substantially improved with the right medical interventions and attentive home care.

Cerebral palsy: Common symptoms
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Lifestyle

If you are living with cerebral palsy, routines, and strategies that are self-directed or facilitated by family and caregivers are central components of preventing complications and maximizing the use of your abilities.

Exercise 

In addition to professional physical therapy sessions, frequent and regular physical activity is an effective way to maximize motor control, prevent muscle contractures (extreme stiffness of muscles), and maintain a healthy weight.

Even if you are profoundly handicapped due to cerebral palsy, it is possible to consistently challenge yourself physically within the limits of your abilities.

Researchers also found that vigorous physical activity, but not moderate or light activity, can improve cardiorespiratory fitness in children with cerebral palsy.  

Repositioning the Body

If you or your loved one with cerebral palsy is physically unable to turn and move while in a wheelchair or in bed for long periods at a time, caregivers must maintain a schedule of frequent turning to prevent complications such as bedsores, blood clots, and infections. 

Assistance With Using the Toilet 

Depending on the degree of disability, some people with cerebral palsy need assistance using the toilet. Consistent schedules and appropriately accessible toilets can help make this process sanitary to avoid complications such as skin infections, bladder infections, and constipation. 

Nutrition 

Maintaining proper nutrition to ensure that you get enough calories, vitamins, and minerals while avoiding unhealthy foods can prevent illnesses such as bone disease, liver disease, heart disease, and stroke.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

There are no over-the-counter medications that help with cerebral palsy symptoms, but vitamin supplements may be recommended.

Vitamin D and Calcium

Children and adults who have cerebral palsy have a higher than normal chance of experiencing bone fractures due to bone thinning. There is some evidence that vitamin D and calcium supplementation may provide some benefit in reducing the development of weak bones, which can lower the incidence of bone fractures.

Prescriptions

There are prescription medications that can alleviate several of the common symptoms and associated effects of cerebral palsy.

If you or your loved one with cerebral palsy has trouble swallowing, taking these medications requires especially careful planning.

Muscle Relaxers 

The muscle stiffness and spasticity of cerebral palsy limits motor control and can contribute to pain at rest or with activity. Sometimes, taking muscle relaxers on a regular schedule or on an as-needed basis can temporarily reduce the problems that come from muscle stiffness. 

Anti-Seizure Medications 

Seizures occur more often among people who have cerebral palsy than among the general population. There are a number of effective anti-seizure medications and the right one for you depends on the type of seizures that you experience as well as on your response to the medication.

Bisphosphonate

Bone fragility is common among children and adults with cerebral palsy. People who have cerebral palsy regularly use bisphosphonate, a medication that can be taken by mouth or by injection. Evidence suggests that bisphosphonate inhibits a decrease in bone density, which can help in the prevention of bone fractures. However, the current evidence does not definitely prove that bisphosphonate prevents bone fractures or strengthens bones.

Interventional Therapy

Most people with cerebral palsy can benefit from several types of specialized therapeutic techniques. These interactive therapeutic techniques require direction and guidance from a professional therapist with experience in cerebral palsy rehabilitation. Therapy may take place at a rehabilitation facility with specialized equipment or at home. 

Cerebral Palsy Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

Speech Therapy 

Speech therapy is a professional intervention focused on the repetition of exercises and techniques that improve the pronunciation of words. The key objective of speech therapy is learning to effectively communicate with others. 

Swallowing Therapy 

Safely eating is one of the skills that people with cerebral palsy may be deficient in. Problems with chewing and swallowing can cause dangerous choking episodes and lung infections. Working with a speech-language pathologist to practice techniques that build up the ability to control chewing and swallowing can optimize these skills for safer eating. 

Physical Therapy 

Building strength and coordination through carefully designed physical therapy sessions can prevent muscles from becoming weaker, prevent contractures, and optimize muscle coordination. Physical therapy in cerebral palsy involves active movements of muscles that have some strength to improve control, as well as passive movements to prevent contractures.

Occupational Therapy 

Occupational therapy includes a personalized plan to learn and improve practical skills such as self-care, using assistive devices and getting around from one place to another. 

Cognitive Therapy

Formal education in school and therapy-based cognitive exercises are important components of cerebral palsy management. Most children with cerebral palsy have a capacity for learning. Reading, mathematics, artistic thinking, and problem-solving skills can be achieved based on a tailored educational approach with realistic and appropriately paced goals.

Assistive Devices

Most people with cerebral palsy need to use some medically prescribed device.

Eyeglasses, Eye Patches, Visual Aids

Children with cerebral palsy may have eye tracking problems or visual problems that require more intervention than regular prescription glasses.

Early intervention with the appropriate devices can help correct some problems such as a lazy eye, resulting in better visual abilities throughout life.

Muscle Support

Devices such as splints and braces prescribed by a professional can help achieve a number of desirable outcomes.

  • Preventing falls and injuries
  • Preventing contractures
  • Building muscle control
  • Improving fine motor skills

Surgeries and Procedures

There are not procedures that treat cerebral palsy itself, but there are procedures that help with some of the symptoms and complications of cerebral palsy. 

Spasticity

Muscle spasticity and rigidity can interfere with motor control and may cause pain. In addition to prescription medications that work systemically, there are some procedures that can alleviate spasticity.

  • Injections: Targeted injections of paralytic agents such as botulinum toxin can temporarily reduce spasticity, essentially "freeing" the muscles so they can function at maximum capacity.
  • Surgery: Surgical procedures may provide some relief of the spasticity of cerebral palsy in certain circumstances.

Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt for Hydrocephalus

Structural brain abnormalities generally cannot be surgically repaired in cerebral palsy, but sometimes the structural brain abnormalities are associated with ventricular enlargement or excess fluid in the brain.

In some situations, this fluid accumulation may progress to cause additional harm to the brain. In these instances, a VP shunt, a device that can be surgically placed to relieve fluid buildup, can prevent additional pressure on the brain.

Muscle Lengthening

Sometimes surgery to extend the length of the muscles, particularly in the legs, can be an effective way to improve mobility and lessen pain for some children with cerebral palsy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the treatment for cerebral palsy?

    Treatment is focused on managing the symptoms and features of cerebral palsy and maximizing the person’s independence. The treatment plan often involves a combination of medications (including Botox injections and oral muscle relaxants), various therapies (including physical, occupational, and speech therapy), and occasionally surgery.

  • What can ease spasticity in a child with cerebral palsy?

    The treatment can vary by age. In addition to physical therapy and orthotic devices, there are oral medications commonly used to manage spasticity in people with cerebral palsy:

    • Catapres (clonidine)
    • Dantrium (dantrolene sodium)
    • Lioresal (baclofen)
    • Valium (diazepam)
    • Zanaflex (tizanidine)
  • How is dystonia treated in a child with cerebral palsy?

    Dystonia, the involuntary contraction of muscles that cause repetitive or twisting movements, is typically treated with Lioresal (baclofen) in first-line therapy. Pain associated with dystonia may be alleviated with gabapentin, while Catapres (clonidine) may help reduce sleep disturbances. During severe episodes (a.k.a. dystonia storms), benzodiazepines may be helpful.

  • When are leg braces needed for cerebral palsy?

    There are different reasons why orthotic devices may be needed, including knee or hip subluxation, pronation problems, spasticity, and joint eversion or inversion. The aim is to help build stability while increasing strength, comfort, and independence. The devices may be soft, semi-rigid, or rigid and are commonly categorized as:

    • Foot orthotics
    • Knee orthotics
    • Ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs)
    • Knee-ankle-foot orthotics (KAFOs)
    • Hip-knee-ankle-foot orthotics (HKAFOs)
    • Trunk-hip-knee-ankle-foot orthotics (THKAFOs)
    • Spinal orthotics
    • Prophylactic braces (mostly used for people with knee injuries)
  • Can cerebral palsy be cured?

    Unfortunately, no since the condition is caused by an abnormality or disruption in brain development. However, there is evidence that some children with mild cerebral palsy may “outgrow” the disorder—although it is unclear if they truly outgrew it or if the symptoms may have been caused by a related neurological disorder. (It is not uncommon for the diagnosis to change as a child matures and the nature and characteristics of the symptoms become clearer).

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12 Sources
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