Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

A Thai child with cerebral palsy reacts as massage is applied to her back to alleviate a muscle spasm at a treatment center in Bangkok, Thailand.
A Thai child with cerebral palsy reacts as massage is applied to her back to alleviate a muscle spasm at a treatment center in Bangkok, Thailand.
Natalie Behring-Chisholm/Getty Images

Once a doctor diagnoses a child with cerebral palsy, he or she discusses a course of treatment with the parents. Early intervention gives the child the best chance of learning how to manage his or her impairments and find alternate ways to perform tasks that may be challenging.

Even when children are diagnosed with CP as infants, they begin physical therapy as soon as possible to strengthen their muscles. Some people with CP suffer from muscle contractures, which occur when the muscles shorten due to spasticity. Stretching the muscles can keep this from happening. It also gives children a better chance of sitting, walking and performing other physical tasks as efficiently as possible. Many people with CP also receive massages and learn yoga positions to help stretch their muscles and keep them flexible.

Other therapy can also be helpful, depending on the child's particular type of CP. For example, children with athetoid/dyskenetic CP often have trouble breathing, speaking and eating, so working with a speech/language pathologist can help them to strengthen their facial muscles and speak clearly. Some children with CP use alternate methods of communication, such as Blissymbols, a symbolic writing system, or computerized voice synthesizers. Occupational therapy can help children with basic skills like bathing and feeding themselves.

There are some drugs that people with CP can take to decrease their spasticity and limit their tremors, such as the muscle relaxer Benzodiazepine, but they aren't always effective and may have unwanted side effects. Recently, doctors have begun injecting Botox into tight muscles to relax them. Some children with severely spastic CP have pumps surgically implanted in their abdomens as young adults, which continuously deliver a stream of an antispasmodic drug called Baclofen.

Children with spastic cerebral palsy sometimes have surgery to loosen tight muscles and joints. Over time, spastic muscles can also cause bone deformities, which require surgery to fix. For example, sometimes the tibia, or shin bone, becomes permanently twisted, which can lead to further difficulties in walking. A surgeon can cut the bone and realign it. Some people with severe spasticity end up having surgery that involves identifying and cutting nerve fibers, called selective dorsal rhizotomy, which can improve their mobility. It's usually a last resort.

­There are also alternative therapies available for people with CP. Biofeedback involves recording the body functions of a patient, including muscle tension, and conveying this information to the patient. The idea is that they can control some of these unconscious functions once they are made aware of them, but its effectiveness hasn't been proven in CP patients.

Cord blood therapy has been touted as a possible cure for cerebral palsy, but there haven't yet been scientific trials to prove its effectiveness. The possibility got a boost, however, when the family of a 2-year-old child named Dallas Huxtell appeared on the Today Show in March 2008. They claimed that treating Dallas with his own stem cells has caused a reversal of his cerebral palsy symptoms. Prior to his treatment, Dallas had very poor muscle tone and motor skills and was behind in his development. Now his doctors state that he may have no symptoms of CP at all by the time he is 7 years old. This is just one case, but it has given new hope to people with CP.


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