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What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term / diagnosis used to describe disorders that limits a child’s movement and posture. The main cause of cerebral Palsy is brain injury either before birth, during birth, or within the first few years of life.Your child’s problems are likely to be caused by injury to the parts of the brain that control movement and posture.

Other areas of the brain can also be involved, depending on the severity and area of brain injury. Cerebral Palsy is not a degenerative condition, as in it doesn’t get worse with time. But your child’s condition may change as your child grows.

Cerebral Palsy is different in every child. Some children can walk. Some may require a walker and or orthotics (splints) to help them walk. Other children require total care and use a wheelchair as their main way to get around. Some people with cerebral palsy may have:

  • seizures
  • communication difficulties
  • behaviour problems
  • difficulty with learning
  • problems with hearing and / or vision

What is the Gross Motor Functional Classification System (GMFCS) and why is it used for children with Cerebral Palsy?

The GMFCS Classification System is used worldwide to classify children with cerebral palsy. Your therapists and Doctors are likely to discuss this with you as this can help predict how your child may progress with their motor function as they grow. It is therefore, better for your child to be diagnosed young as this can help predict and answer question’s you may have specifically around your child’s future mobility such as will my child learn to sit, walk, climb stairs.
GMFCS Level I – walks without limitations.
GMFCS Level II – walks with limitations. Limitations include walking long distances and balancing, but not as able as Level I to run or jump; may require use of mobility devices when first learning to walk, usually prior to age 4; and may rely on wheeled mobility equipment when outside of home for traveling long distances.
GMFCS Level III – walks with adaptive equipment assistance. Requires hand-held mobility assistance to walk indoors, while utilizing wheeled mobility outdoors, in the community and at school; can sit on own or with limited external support; and has some independence in standing transfers.
GMFCS Level IV – self-mobility with use of powered mobility assistance. Usually supported when sitting; self-mobility is limited; and likely to be transported in manual wheelchair or powered mobility.
GMFCS Level V – severe head and trunk control limitations. Requires extensive use of assisted technology and physical assistance; and transported in a manual wheelchair, unless self-mobility can be achieved by learning to operate a powered wheelchair.

What are the symptoms of CP?

There are many symptoms of CP, below are a list of a few common symptoms seen:
  • Trouble with head control, sitting, crawling, or walking
  • Unusual postures, involuntary movements of muscles
  • Poor balance or coordination
  • Shaking of arms or legs that cannot be controlled
  • Stiff muscles that make it hard for your child to move
There are many medical conditions that are often seen in children with cerebral palsy. Some children don’t have any of these problems while other children will have several.
  • Difficulty learning
  • Behaviour or emotional issues
  • Difficulty with talking or communication
  • Problems with eating or drinking
  • Excessive drooling
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty becoming toilet trained
  • Difficulty with digestion or constipation
  • Problems with vision or hearing
  • Sensory difficulties
  • Sleeping problems
  • Pain
  • Hip displacement
  • Scoliosis or spine curve
  • Contractures of joints, more commonly seen in children who use wheelchairs

How is CP treated?

Cerebral palsy can affect many areas of child development. It can affect many areas of the body and result in many symptoms as described above. Therefore, it is important to think about what your child is struggling to do and why, especially with regards to functional everyday activities. You will need a full ‘team around the child’ approach covering all aspects of child development which will include professionals working within health, social and the educational setting.
Your doctor and therapy team can help to guide the right treatments for your child at the right stage in your child’s development. However, early and ongoing treatment can help a child develop as much as possible. Treatment may include:
  • Therapy (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language, music, art, animal)
  • Inclusive sport and recreational activities
  • Medication
  • Surgery
  • Equipment (like a wheelchair, walker, bath aids, toilet aids)
  • Braces (orthotics)
Cerebral Palsy is the most common childhood movement disorder in the UK. There are lots of treatments options available for your child and lots of ongoing research to investigate the benefits of these treatment options. In other words, there is no cure for cerebral palsy but there are so many therapeutic approaches and treatments available to help your child reach their full potential.
We can assess and treat children at your home, school, gym or anywhere you feel your child would be most comfortable.
Contact us for an informal chat to ask any questions specific to your child.
We have children’s physiotherapists who are specialists working with children with Cerebral Palsy within Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and parts of London.