Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the most common childhood disorder and can be defined as brain damage that happens before or shortly after birth which affects movement and muscle tone.
When diagnosed, a doctor will categorize cerebral palsy into four types based upon the child’s mobility that has been impacted as well as the number of limbs or body parts that have been affected.
Before we familiarize you with the four major groups, lets FIRST answer the burning question you came here for (and thanks so much for being here). 🙂
What IS the most common type of cerebral palsy diagnosed in children?
Type #1. Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic Cerebral Palsy, commonly referred to as Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy, is the most common type of CP diagnosed in children affecting 70-80%.
Hypertonia, meaning increased muscle tone, tends to lead to painful limbs where muscles are noticeably stiff and tight and making jerky movements.
Suffering from motor cortex damage to the brain (controlling voluntary body movements), a child could have difficulty walking, kicking a ball, moving their arm, or lifting objects.
Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty stretching
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty walking
- Poor coordination and control of muscle movements
- Bending of the elbows, wrists, and fingers
- Problems with posture
- Feeding issues
In addition, you will see the following terminology used to describe the area and number of limbs that may be impacted:
- Spastic Diplegia. Two limbs are affected, usually the legs which involves muscle in the lower extremity. This makes walking especially difficult and often, children will walk in a wide ‘scissor-like gait’ or on their toes.
- Spastic Hemiplegia. One side of the body will be affected, there will be movement and muscle tone difficulties, usually in the arm.
- Spastic Quadriplegia. This is the most severe type of Spastic Cerebral Palsy where motor dysfunction occurs all over the body in all four extremities and the legs are affected more than arms. There also may be limited control over facial muscles.
Type #1. Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy is derived from the word ‘ataxia’, meaning loss of control of full body movements and is the least common type of cerebral palsy impacting around 6% of children.
It is caused by damage to the center of the brain, the cerebellum, usually prior to birth from a brain bleed, lesions, high blood pressure from the mother during pregnancy, and/or problems with the placenta.
The cerebellum when damaged results in poor coordination and lack of balance. A child may appear unsteady and shaky in their arms and legs because their balance and depth perception is affected.
Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty when writing
- Speech and oral problems
- Slow eye movements
- Unable to make quick movements
- Tendency to fall and stumble when walking
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Type #3. Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Also, known as Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy and it is the second most common type.
Marked by abnormal movements and muscle control in the arms, legs, and hands, makes this type of CP challenging controlling body coordination and mobility.
These uncontrollable movements tend to become more severe during times of emotional stress and will usually subside during periods of time when sleeping or resting.
A child’s muscles may also appear to be tighter or looser than usual. For instance, a parent holding or carrying their child may notice they feel loose.
The resulting brain damage is to the ‘basal ganglia’ during the brain’s development. This part of the brain is responsible for motor control but is also part of the body which affects motor skills such as learning and emotions.
The cerebellum can also be impacted resulting in poor movement and posture.
Symptoms may include:
- Weak muscle tone
- Uncontrollable movements
- Difficulty in sitting or walking
- Difficulty in grasping objects
- Learning difficulties
- Unable to eat
Type #4. Mixed Type Cerebral Palsy
Mixed Type Cerebral Palsy is the result of multiple brain injuries that are located in numerous spots of the brain and result in affecting about 10% of children.
When a child shows signs of more than one type of CP, they will usually be diagnosed as a mixed type. The most common mixed types of CP include a combination of spastic and athetoid. The least common variety is the combination of ataxic and athetoid.
Symptoms and risks may include:
- Developing seizures
- Swallowing issues
- Developing intellectual disabilities
- Jerky movements
- Poor posture
- Abnormal reflexes
- Tremors or shakiness
- Coordination problems
The child’s condition will involve a combination of the symptoms as described above. In particular, they may have issues with involuntary movements, spasticity (abrupt, convulsive movements), and/or lack of balance and coordination.
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To understand mixed CP, below is a summary of the primary issues associated with the other types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic. High muscle tone, causing stiffness and jerky movements.
- Ataxic. Issues with balance and coordination affecting normal body movements.
- Athetoid. A variety of low and high muscle tone, resulting in rigid or floppy movements.
Treatments for Cerebral Palsy will depend on the types and symptoms a child develops. The most common types of treatment include the following:
- Intensive physical therapy. Effective at improving a child’s gross motor functions such as being able to move their arms, legs, and mid-section or trunk.
- Occupational therapy (OT). Helps children improve their activities of daily living (ADL) while enhancing sensory skills. For instance, tasks like eating, drinking, dressing, and hygiene.
- Speech therapy. Improve communication interactions while strengthening facial muscles and oral control.
- Medications. The most commonly used medications fall within these categories; pain management, muscle relaxers, depression, seizures, stool softeners, and for uncontrolled body movements.
- Recreational therapy. Also, known as therapeutic therapy, is an activity that helps a child with their physical, mental, and social skills. Activities can range from swimming, horse back riding, sports, arts, playing, and animals.
- Communication device. One of the best ways for a child to develop their fine motor skills such as hand and eye coordination is through a communication device. It is a fun and engaging way for communicate to happen through guided interaction between the child and care taker.
Even though Cerebral Palsy is a permanent and irreversible condition, all types of CP can be treated to improve a child’s muscle coordination, strength, and overall quality of life.
A Couple Helpful Resources
#1. Reading Recommendation. According to doctors and therapists, intensive physical therapy is one of the most effective ways to help a child hit developmental milestones; such as crawling, rolling over, walking, eating, etc.
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#2. If you or someone you know are caring for a child with cerebral palsy (cp), checkout the latest information ‘Cerebral Palsy A Complete Guide for Caregiving’ put together by world-renowned experts. It’s an essential and compassionate guide on how to care for a child with CP.
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