Cerebral Palsy and Pediatric Physical Therapy

Cerebral Palsy and Pediatric Physical Therapy

Throughout my adventures as a physical therapist, I’ve come across many people who have heard of cerebral palsy but who don’t necessarily know what it is.  So, what exactly is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an injury or abnormality in the brain that can occur before, during, or after birth that affects the brain and nervous system.  Sometimes the cause of injury is known, such as from certain infections during pregnancy or injury during birth, but many times there is no known cause.  The injury to the brain is non-progressive, meaning that it is stable and will not change. However, a child with CP can experience progressive neuromuscular effects, such as decreased range of motion, decreased strength, or difficulty with transfers and ambulation.  Cerebral palsy can affect the muscles and movements of the entire body, including the trunk, arms, legs, and face.  Motor skills may change over time due to factors such as tone, growth spurts, abnormal forces through the joints, inactivity, or medical complications.

Most of the time, signs or symptoms of cerebral palsy are seen by age two, but they can also be seen as early as infancy.  Some of the early signs can include abnormally stiff or loose extremities, difficulty eating or swallowing, abnormal movements, or difficulty in achieving motor milestones such as reaching, sitting, crawling or walking.  Some children also have additional medical concerns such as seizure disorder, hydrocephalus and cognitive delay.  Some kids with CP need different therapies to learn different skills or address any motor concerns.  While there are many types of cerebral palsy, it is important to remember that each child with CP is unique.

The United Cerebral Palsy organization (www.ucp.org) has some great information on cerebral palsy.  The local Oregon and SW Washington chapter is another resource for families, and it provides assistance, educational opportunities, and support for those who are interested.  There are also volunteer opportunities within UCP. 

If you have any questions about motor development of any child you know or any concerns regarding cerebral palsy, you should contact your pediatrician.  Our therapists can also answer questions about CP as well as provide any physical, occupational or speech therapy to help your child achieve their developmental skills.  We work with children and their families around the Portland Metro area.

Contact us at (503) 496-0385 to learn more.

(Blog post provided courtesy of Crystal Bridges, DPT)