Children's Hospital Colorado

Cerebral Palsy

What is cerebral palsy (CP)?

Cerebral palsy, also known as CP, is a term used to describe a group of chronic (long-lasting) conditions affecting body movement, posture and muscle coordination. This can cause activity restriction or disability.

Cerebral palsy ranges in severity from mild and hardly detectable to very severe. The motor impairment can be accompanied by a seizure disorder and problems with sensation (feeling), cognition (thinking), respiratory dysfunction (breathing), communication and/or behavior.

What does cerebral palsy mean?

Quite simply, the word "cerebral" refers to the brain and "palsy" describes muscle weakness and poor control.

What causes cerebral palsy?

CP is caused by disturbances to one or more areas of the brain. This usually happens while a baby is still in the womb, during or right after birth or during infancy. Damage to the motor areas of the brain disrupts the brain's ability to adequately control movement and posture.

What is the incidence of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is the most common developmental disability in the United States, affecting about four out of every 1,000 live births.

What is the prognosis for cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is not progressive, which means it does not get worse. However, secondary conditions like muscle spasticity can get worse over time. As the muscle spasticity continues, progressive deformities of the muscles, bones and joints can occur as the child grows despite the fact that the disturbance of the brain is not getting worse.

Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, treatment, training and therapy by the experts at Children's Hospital Colorado can help improve your child's function. Within our internationally-renowned Cerebral Palsy Program, we care for approximately 2,000 kids, teens and young adults with CP.

What are signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP)?

Symptoms of cerebral palsy include movement or posture abnormalities that are not progressive. A child with CP may be delayed in reaching developmental milestones, such as sitting or walking.

During infancy, you and/or your pediatrician may notice some abnormal reflexes, poor muscle tone, irritability, difficulty sucking/swallowing or fisted hands. In later infancy and during the toddler years, you and/or your pediatrician may notice that your child is having difficulty walking, or your child walks or runs differently than other children the same age.

Sometimes symptoms can be very mild, involving trouble with coordination of one extremity (leg or arm). More severe symptoms can cause an inability to walk or talk.

Cerebral palsy may affect bones and joints causing skeletal deformities such as scoliosis, hip dislocations, muscle and joint contractures or difficulty walking. In addition, vision, hearing, speech, feeding and breathing may be affected.

How will my child's doctor diagnose cerebral palsy?

At Children's Colorado, a pediatric neurologist and/or a rehabilitation doctor will likely diagnose your child's cerebral palsy (CP) after doing a thorough developmental evaluation and possibly a brain MRI.

If your child is diagnosed with CP, treatment will include yearly visits to our nationally-ranked Cerebral Palsy Program, as well as physical or occupational therapy, orthotics, the Center for Gait and Movement Analysis, neurology and/or neurosurgery.

A difficult condition to diagnose

Diagnosing the cause of CP is very difficult, and the exact cause is often unknown. CP is frequently a diagnosis of "exclusion," which means that many causes are ruled out before the CP diagnosis is made.

There is no way to diagnosis CP before a baby is born, and many times it can take months or years to make a final diagnosis.

How is cerebral palsy (CP) treated?

Currently there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but many treatments and therapies available at Children's Colorado can improve function and quality of life for kids, teens and young adults with CP.

Treatment and therapies can include:

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Why choose the Cerebral Palsy Program at Children's Colorado?

At the Cerebral Palsy Program within the Orthopedics Institute, our goal is to maximize function and ensure the best quality of life for children with CP.

Our Cerebral Palsy Program brings together experts from Orthopedic Surgery, Neurosurgery, Rehabilitation, Physical and Occupational Therapies, Pediatrics, Neurology, Genetics, Nutrition, the Center for Gait and Motion Analysis and Adaptive Recreation for Childhood Health. These specialists work as a team to provide the latest and best treatments to help children live to their fullest potential. And because we understand that every child is different, we tailor individual treatment recommendations for each child and their family.

Nationally-ranked CP care for kids near and far

At Children's Colorado, we treat approximately 2,000 kids with CP and related conditions. Most of our patients live in Colorado and neighboring states such as Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas, Utah, Oklahoma and Texas.

Other children come to us from across the United States and around the world. Patients and their families are willing to travel longer distances to benefit from our team approach, comprehensive treatment and excellent care by world-renowned experts in their field.

Caring for our patients as adults

The team at Children's Colorado is currently researching how cerebral palsy affects the health of adults as they grow and age. Researchers hope to use findings from the Cerebral Palsy Adult Transition Longitudinal Study (CPAT) to support the evolution of care that adults with CP receive.