What Is Cerebral Palsy? Cerebral palsy (CP) is a problem that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills. It hinders the body's ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way. It also can affect other body functions that involve motor skills and muscles, like breathing, bladder and bowel control, eating, and talking. CP often is caused by brain damage that happens before or during a baby's birth, or during the first 3-to-5 years of a child's life. Brain damage also can lead to other issues, like sight, hearing, and learning problems. The types of CP are: spastic cerebral palsy — causes stiffness and movement difficulties dyskinetic (athetoid) cerebral palsy — causes uncontrolled movements ataxic cerebral palsy — causes a problem with balance and depth perception There is no cure for CP, but a child's quality of life can improve with: treatment that may involve surgery therapy, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy special equipment to help kids get around and communicate with others Cerebral palsy does not get worse over time. What Causes Cerebral Palsy? The cause of CP isn't always known. But many cases happen when a child's brain is still developing, such as before birth or in early infancy. This may be due to: infections during pregnancy stroke either in the womb or after birth untreated jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes) genetic disorders medical problems in the mom during pregnancy In rare cases, CP happens because something goes wrong during a child's birth. Premature babies (babies born early) have a higher chance of having CP than full-term babies. So do other low-birthweight babies and multiple births, such as twins and triplets. Brain damage in infancy or early childhood also can lead to CP. For example, a baby or toddler might suffer damage from: lead poisoning bacterial meningitis poor blood flow to the brain being shaken as an infant (shaken baby syndrome) being in a car accident How Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed? Babies who are born early or who have health problems that put them at risk for cerebral palsy are watched for signs of the condition. Doctors look for: developmental delays, like not reaching for toys by 4 months or sitting up by 7 months problems with motor skills, like being unable to crawl, walk, or move arms and legs in the usual way uncoordinated movements muscle tone that is too tight or too lose infant reflexes (like the palmar grasp, or "hands in fists" reflex) that stay beyond the age at which they're usually gone What Problems Does CP Cause? There is a range of physical and cognitive (the ability to learn and understand) disabilities when it comes to CP. Some kids have a lot of trouble with movement or learning, while others don't. It depends on how much the brain was damaged. For example, the damage can be partial, affecting only the part of the brain that controls walking. Or it can affect a larger area, like the parts that control walking and talking. Brain damage that causes CP also can affect other brain functions and lead to problems like: visual impairment or blindness hearing loss food aspiration (the sucking of food or fluid into the lungs) gastroesophageal reflux (spitting up) speech problems and/or drooling tooth decay sleep disorders osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) behavior problems learning disabilities Seizures, speech and communication problems, and learning problems are more common among kids with CP. Many have problems that can need ongoing therapy and assistive devices like braces or wheelchairs. How Is Cerebral Palsy Treated? There's no cure for cerebral palsy. But resources and therapies can help kids grow and develop to their greatest potential. As soon as CP is diagnosed, a child can begin therapy for movement and other areas that need help, such as learning, speech, hearing, and social and emotional development. Medicine helps kids who have a lot of muscle pain and stiffness. They can take medicine by mouth or get it through a pump (the baclofen pump) placed under the skin. Surgery can help fix dislocated hips and scoliosis (curved spine), which are common in kids with CP. Leg braces help with walking. Kids can improve their bone health by eating diets high in calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus. These nutrients help keep bones strong. Doctors, dietitians, and speech-language therapists can work with families to make sure kids get enough of the right nutrients and suggest changes to their diets or mealtime routines, if needed. What Else Should I Know? Kids with CP often need to see many different medical specialists for care. That team may include doctors and surgeons, nurses, therapists, psychologists, educators, and social workers. Even if many medical specialists are needed, it's still important to have a primary care doctor or a CP specialist. This doctor will take care of your child's routine health care and also help you coordinate care with other doctors. Where Can Caregivers Get Help? Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy can feel overwhelming at times. Not only do kids with CP need a lot of attention at home, they also need to go to many medical appointments and therapies. Don't be afraid to say yes when someone asks, "Can I help?" Your family and friends really do want to be there for you. To feel less alone and to connect with others who are facing the same challenges, find a local or online support group. You also can get information and support from CP organizations, such as: Cerebral Palsy Foundation United Cerebral Palsy Staying strong and healthy is not only good for you, but also for your child and your whole family. Looking Ahead Living with cerebral palsy is different for every child. To help your child move and learn as much as possible, work closely with your care team to develop a treatment plan. Then, as your child grows and his or her needs change, adjust the plan as necessary. These guides can help as you plan for each stage of childhood and early adulthood: Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Preschoolers (Birth to Age 5) Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids (Ages 6 to 12) Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults (Ages 13 to 21) Back to Articles Related Articles Cerebral Palsy (CP) Learn all about cerebral palsy (CP), one of the most common congenital disorders of childhood. Help your child or teen manage the condition, and find the help and services that kids with CP are entitled to. Read More Spastic Cerebral Palsy Kids with spastic CP have stiff muscles in the upper part of the body, the lower part, or both. Read More Ataxic Cerebral Palsy Kids with ataxic CP have trouble with balance. They may walk with their legs farther apart than other kids. And they can have trouble knowing exactly where something is. Read More Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Dyskinetic CP, or athetoid CP, is a type of CP. Kids with dyskinetic CP have trouble controlling muscle movement. Read More Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Babies & Preschoolers If your child has cerebral palsy, there's a lot to know. This checklist makes it easy to find out what programs and services may be available to you. Read More Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Big Kids If you have a school-age child with cerebral palsy, there's a lot to know. This checklist makes it easy to find out what programs and services may be available to you. Read More Cerebral Palsy Checklist: Teens & Young Adults If your teen has cerebral palsy, there's a lot to know. This checklist makes it easy to determine what programs and services might be needed as your teen nears adulthood. Read More Dietary Needs for Kids With Cerebral Palsy Kids with cerebral palsy often have trouble eating. But with the right diet and feeding techniques, they can get the nutrients needed to thrive. Read More Cerebral Palsy: A Parent's Guide (Video) Are you raising a child with cerebral palsy? This guide offers advice, resources, and support so that you can help your child reach his or her full potential. Read More Cerebral Palsy Factsheet (for Schools) What teachers should know about cerebral palsy, and teaching strategies to help students with CP succeed in school. Read More Assistive Devices: Walking and Mobility (Slideshow) Kids who have trouble walking have many options when it comes to getting around. View the slideshow below to learn more. Read More Assistive Devices: Positioning Aids (Slideshow) Kids with special needs have many options when it comes to supportive seats. View this slideshow to see what's available. Read More Abusive Head Trauma (Shaken Baby Syndrome) Abusive head trauma is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases in the United States. It happens when someone shakes an infant. Read More Cerebral Palsy: Parents Talk (Video) Get advice from parents raising kids with cerebral palsy. Learn what works, what doesn’t, and what helped these families the most. Read More Cerebral Palsy: Ira's Story (Video) Ira has cerebral palsy (CP), but it doesn't interfere with his love of sports or his dream of being a broadcaster. Check out this video. Read More Cerebral Palsy: Shannon's Story (Video) Shannon has cerebral palsy, which limits many abilities. But her wheelchair and her communication device give her the freedom to explore, and a voice to be heard. Read More Physical Therapy Physical therapy helps people get back to full strength and movement - and manage pain - in key parts of the body after an illness or injury. Read More Kids With Special Needs Lots of kids have special needs. Find out more in this article for kids. Read More Going to a Physical Therapist Physical therapy uses exercises and other special treatments to help people move their bodies. Find out more in this article for kids. Read More Going to an Occupational Therapist Occupational therapy helps children overcome obstacles to be as independent as possible. Learn more about OT. Read More Cerebral Palsy Cerebral palsy is one of the most common developmental disabilities in the United States. It affects a person's ability to move and coordinate body movements. Read More Scoliosis Scoliosis makes a person’s spine curve from side to side. Large curves can cause health problems like pain or breathing trouble. Health care providers treat scoliosis with back braces or surgery when needed. Read More Occupational Therapy Occupational therapy can help improve kids' cognitive, physical, and motor skills and build their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. Read More Speech-Language Therapy Working with a certified speech-language pathologist can help a child with speech or language difficulties. Read More Physical Therapy Doctors often recommend physical therapy for kids who have been injured or have movement problems from an illness, disease, or disability. Learn more about PT. Read More Wheelchairs Wheelchairs are a way for some people to be independent, despite illnesses or injuries. Find out more in this article for kids. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.