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.

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. Regular physical activity has been shown to prevent medical complications such as heart disease and bone fractures.    

Repositioning Your 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 definitively 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. 

Speech Therapy  

Speech therapy is a professional intervention focused on repetition of exercises and techniques that improve 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 swallow therapist 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 of paralyzed muscles 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 accessories.

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 muscle relaxants and 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 (excess open space in the brain) 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 limbs, particularly the legs, can be an effective way to maximize motor abilities for some children with cerebral palsy.

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