Cerebral palsy is a motor disability that curtails an individual’s ability to move and maintain posture and equilibrium. The word ‘cerebral’ means ‘brain-related,’ and ‘palsy’ means ‘problem with muscles.’
We cannot define Cerebral Palsy (CP) as a single disease. It is a group of disorders caused by damage to the child’s developing brain or abnormal development of the brain due to which individuals lose their ability to control their muscles. CP commonly begins in early childhood. Its symptoms differ from person to person. A person with intense CP has to use specific equipment to walk or sometimes even cannot walk and requires long-term care. On the other hand, a person with mild CP may not need any special assistance but may walk awkwardly.
Besides posture and movement problems, cerebral palsy patients can have speech, hearing, or vision problems. They may also have joint issues, deviations in the spine, intellectual disability, and seizures.
Treatment for Cerebral Palsy
Treatment of CP includes therapies, surgeries, and medications. Let’s start with medications:
Certain medicines that can reduce muscle tightness are prescribed to treat pain, improve muscle functions and manage the symptoms related to cerebral palsy symptoms like spasticity. Read the
Cerebral Palsy Guide to know more about this disease.
Doctors recommend a course of onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) injections or any other agent to treat the tightening of a particular muscle. To relax muscles, doctors use drugs like tizanidine (Zanaflex), baclofen, dantrolene (Dantrium), or diazepam (Valium). Sometimes doctors can use a tube to pump baclofen in the spinal cord (intrathecal baclofen). This pump or tube is embedded under abdominal skin surgically. Another option is to use Botox injection to control the incontrollable saliva from the salivary glands.
The patient will have to repeat these nerve or muscle injections at three-month intervals. The side effects of these injections are minor, including mild flu or pain at the injection site. There can be some severe side effects like difficulty in swallowing and breathing. However, it is generally advisable to consult with your doctor regarding the risks, benefits, and side effects of medications they recommend.
There are several therapies involved in the treatment of CP. First and foremost, physical therapy is essential and helpful in improving the symptoms of CP. Exercises and muscle training can improve the child’s strength, balance, mobility, flexibility, and motor development. Parents or caretakers should learn how to care for their CP children. Care includes feeding, bathing and activities. The therapists guide parents about exercises and muscle training that parents can manage at home.
Occupational and physical therapists focus on problems like grasping, trunk and head control, and rolling during the first two years after birth. To help the child with everyday functions such as walking, they may need to stretch stiff muscles daily. For this purpose, your child’s therapists may recommend different supportive devices like splints or braces.
Besides physical therapists, occupational therapists also play a role. They help children achieve independence in routine activities at school, home, and community. The equipment they may recommend includes canes with a broad base, seating or standing systems, walkers, and electric wheelchairs.
Speech-language pathologists work on improving the children’s proficiency in speech and helping them speak clearly. Or else, if children cannot talk, therapists teach them to communicate using sign language. They also teach how to use communication devices like voice synthesizers or computers if communication is challenging. Speech therapists also address issues like trouble with swallowing and eating.
Children also benefit from adaptive or regular competitive and recreational sports, for example, skiing or horseback riding. Such therapies improve the motor skills emotional and mental well-being of children.
3. Surgical Procedures
Surgeries are conducted to correct bone abnormalities caused by spasticity and decrease muscle tightness.
Children with severe deformities or contractures require surgery on joints or bones to place the spine, arms, legs, or hips in their exact positions. Surgical methods also broaden muscles or reposition and lengthen tendons that become short due to contractures. Such amendments reduce pain and help in improving mobility. Surgeries also make it convenient to use crutches, braces, or walkers.
In case other treatments are not helping, surgeons may sever the nerves that cause spasms in the muscles in a process which is known as a selective dorsal rhizotomy. It reduces pain and relaxes the legs’ muscles but may also cause numbness.
4. Coping and Support
Parents become stressed and worried when their children are born with cerebral palsy. Here are some tips that can help:
- Try to nurture the independence of your child. Encourage every effort your child makes at autonomy, whether small or big. Try to engage your children in educational, recreational pursuits, employment, or other community activities. Such activities will positively affect and help them participate in society.
- Always be confident about your child. Do not be afraid to speak for the rights of your child. Also, do not be shy to ask difficult questions from your child’s therapist, physicians, and teachers.
- To cope with sorrow and guilt over your kid’s disability, you should consider joining organizations, support groups, and counseling services in your community. Your child may also get support from school programs, counseling, and family reinforcement programs.
Cerebral Palsy in Adults
When children who have cerebral palsy become adults, their healthcare needs change. Besides routine health screenings, children also need continuous health care that includes treatment and evaluation for conditions commonly found in cerebral palsy patients. These include:
- Problems with pain and fatigue
- Heart and lung disease
- Problems with hearing or vision
- Seizure management
- Dental problems
- Muscle tone maintenance
- Depression and other mental health issues
- Orthopedic issues like arthritis and contractures
Physicians may recommend treatments and medications for pain, seizures, osteoporosis, oral health, feeding, hearing, vision, bladder incontinence, sleep problems, and mental conditions. Some adults and children who have cerebral palsy also use some kinds of alternative or complementary medicines. But it is vital to talk with the doctor about the pros and cons of these treatments before taking these complementary medicines and therapies.
Cerebral palsy is a complex condition for many reasons. This neurological condition induced by brain injury is irreversible. Its exact treatment is not available yet. But you should not lose hope if any of your children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The solutions mentioned above can help a lot. Nowadays, emerging treatments are changing how both adults and children adapt to cerebral palsy.