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What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is aterm that defines a set of neurological symptomsaffecting movement and posture caused by damage to ababy’s brainresulting in developmental problems. The part of the brain affected (cerebrum) is involved in controlling movement and co-ordination, communication skills, memory and learning. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and damage to the cerebrum includes loss of motor function but can be accompanied by disturbances of sensation, cognition, communication, perception, and/or behaviour. Cerebral palsy affects people for life.

Physiotherapy treatment will help children and adults achieve their maximum potential by improving their movement, keeping their muscles strong and at a good length and improving their quality of life.

Stretch and mobilisation exercises applied to the lower limbs by an experienced physiotherapistAbove: Stretch and mobilisation exercises applied to the lower limbs by an experienced physiotherapist

Types of cerebral palsy

There are several types of cerebral palsy which include:

Spastic cerebral palsy - Some of the muscles in the body are stiff making movement jerky and difficult to control. Some of the muscles can be permanently contracted.

Athetoid (dyskinetic) cerebral palsy - Control of muscles is disrupted by spontaneous and unwanted movements in the hands, arms feet and legs. Some people have sudden muscle spasms. The tone (stiffness) of the muscles can vary from too high to too low. As a result of these problems, control of posture is disrupted and people with athetoid cerebral palsy have difficulty in staying or sitting in one position and in using their arms or hands effectively.

Ataxic cerebral palsy - problems include difficulty with balance, and fine movements of hands or feet making walking or writing difficult. Some people with ataxic cerebral palsy have difficulty with speech.

Mixed cerebral palsy - a combination of two or more of the above.

Physiotherapy is important for people with all types of cerebral palsy whether they are young or old.

Diagnosis of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is nearly always diagnosed in childhood. If there is concern about your child’s development your child will be referred you to a paediatrician or a neurologist. Concerns might arise as your child develops and there are problems with their movement in their arms or legs. Also they may not be reaching their milestones for example, not sitting at the right time or not walking at the right time.

Information will be gathered on medical histories of both the parents’ families and the mother’s medical problems before and during pregnancy. A thorough assessment of your child’s medical, physical and mental problems will also be taken.

Further tests may be recommended to confirm a diagnosis and to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. Your child may need blood tests and brain imaging to see the area of the brain which has been affected.

A diagnosis of cerebral palsy can usually be made when your child is two or three years old, but the type and severity of your child's cerebral palsy may not be able to be assessed until they reach four or five years of age.

What causes of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebrum in the brain. The cerebrum controls muscles, communication skills, memory and learning.

The most common cause of cerebral palsy is abnormal development in the womb while the baby is still growing and genetic factors may play a part in causing this. The following factors increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy:
  • Premature babies, in particular, babies born before 28 weeks development
  • Infections of the pregnant mother such as rubella may be a cause in some cases
  • 1 in 10 cases are caused by problems around the birth of the baby such as lack of oxygen during birth.
  • After birth, meningitis or other brain infections can cause damage to the brain resulting in cerebral palsy.

What are the effects / symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Every person with cerebral palsy is affected in a different way. Some people may be severely affected whilst others have only minor difficulties depending on what area of the brain has been damaged. The effects of cerebral palsy also depend on the type of cerebral palsy.

Physical symptoms include:
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Unwanted movement
  • Weakness or paralysis of the limbs
  • Abnormal gait (quality of walking)
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Difficulty controlling posture i.e. sitting or staying in one position
Non physical symptoms include:
  • Learning difficulties
  • Speech problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Problems with hearing
  • Visual disturbances
Physiotherapy treatment helps improve the physical symptoms of cerebral palsy, therefore increasing quality of life.

Physiotherapy for cerebral palsy

Physiotherapy treatment will help babies and children with cerebral palsy from an early age to learn the correct ways to move and maximise their potential. A child with cerebral palsy should start physiotherapy at an early age, but progress may be possible at any age.

At we offer an early intervention when waiting lists are long and you are looking for treatment. Our specialist neurological physiotherapists at are experienced in treating babies, children and adults with cerebral palsy.

Physiotherapy for children with cerebral palsy

The physiotherapists at will help babies and children by promoting physical development to reach milestones as soon as possible, e.g. rolling, crawling and walking. Physiotherapy treatment is also focused around:
  • Exercises based around everyday activities to increase muscle strength and control so that your child is able to shift their body weight and balance better
  • Exercises to increase mobility and their success of learning to walk and standing without an aid
  • Advice about supportive devices such as using a wheelchair, orthotic devices or other adaptive equipment
  • Mirror imaging to increase your child’s awareness of where their limbs are in space at rest and during movement (proprioception)
  • Stretching to lengthen muscles and reducing contractures
  • Positioning to improve head and trunk control. For example, supporting your child in sitting to develop weight shifting, rotation, coordination and balance
  • Exercises to increase quality of movement or teaching new ways of moving
  • Advice regarding suitability for botulinum toxin. Tight muscle caused by increased tone may benefit from this type of treatment.
  • Achieving their maximum potential
  • Improving quality of life
  • Promoting independence with everyday tasks
At our specialised neurological physiotherapists will correct positioning, and provide fun and stimulating exercises to gain head control, postural stability and improved mobility in your child. Our motivated physiotherapists will improve your child’s functional ambulation by encouraging motivation to move and exploration of the world around them. Our physiotherapists understand that each person with cerebral palsy has different difficulties so our specialised treatment is suited to your child’s needs.

Physiotherapy treatment will involve using a variety of exercises that are both enjoyable and effective in a stimulating and safe environment. Physiotherapy treatment has the ability to help your child achieve their maximum potential and develop self-sufficiency.

At we work closely with occupational therapists who can assist with everyday tasks as well as assessing home and school practices and environments.

If your child has cerebral palsy and you would like to book a full assessment call us now on 0330 088 7800, book online or alternatively request a free phone consultation

Physiotherapy for adults with cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is non progressive however, over time mobility may be decreased as joints become stiff and muscle lengthbecomes shorter. Physiotherapy treatment is therefore very important for adults with cerebral palsy. At our physiotherapists are experienced in treating adults with cerebral palsy.

Physiotherapy treatment for adults with cerebral palsy may include:
  • Exercises to increase mobility such as walking and standing without an aid
  • Muscle stretching to prevent stiffness and lengthen tight muscles
  • Exercise to help relax stiff muscles and joints to keep your joints flexible and help make movements smooth and efficient
  • Exercise to increase stamina and reduce fatigue
  • Balance training to help improve confidence and reduce the risk of falling
  • Advice on positioning to help posture
  • Advice about supportive devices such as using a wheelchair, orthotic devices or other adaptive equipment
  • Hydrotherapy treatment
Physiotherapy treatment will help a person with cerebral palsy live the best life possible by maximising potential.

An initial assessment will look at how cerebral palsy affects you and short and long term goals will be developed. To arrange a full assessment to get an idea of your rehabilitation potential and book an appointment call 0330 088 7800, book online or alternatively request a free phone consultation.

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