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Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. It's usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth. Children with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy may have difficulties in controlling muscles and movements as they grow and develop.
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but physiotherapy and other therapies can often help people with cerebral palsy become more independent.
No two people will be affected by their cerebral palsy in the same way, and it's important to ensure treatments and therapies are tailored to your child’s individual needs.
In the UK, cerebral palsy affects about one in every 400 children. Cerebral palsy can affect people from all social backgrounds and ethnic groups.
There may be no obvious single reason why a child has cerebral palsy. The main causes of cerebral palsy include:
The following factors can increase the likelihood of cerebral palsy:
A combination of the above (such as low birth weight and being a twin) can further increase the probability of cerebral palsy.
There are 3 main types of cerebral palsy. Many people will have a mixture of these types.
Present in around 75-88% of people with cerebral palsy, spasticity means the muscle tone is tight and stiff causing a decreased range of movement. As the muscle tone is so tight, spasticity can be very painful with muscles often going into spasm. It can affect many different areas of the body.
Sometimes referred to as dystonic, athetoid or choreoathetoid cerebral palsy. It's present in about 15% of people with cerebral palsy. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes uncontrolled, involuntary, sustained or intermittent muscle contractions as the muscle tone changes from tight to loose, often accompanied with slow, rhythmic movements. The whole body can be affected which can make it difficult to maintain an upright position. Speech can also be affected as the person may experience difficulty in controlling the tongue, vocal chords and breathing.
Ataxia is defined as an inability to activate the correct pattern of muscles during movement. Balance is affected and the person may have poor spatial awareness or find it difficult to judge their body position in relation to things around them. It's present in about 4% of people with cerebral palsy and can affect the whole body. Most people with ataxic cerebral palsy can walk but they will be unsteady with shaky movements. Speech and language can also be affected.
Many people with cerebral palsy will have a combination of the above types. You may also come across terms such as hemiplegia or diplegia. These terms refer to the part of the body affected by the cerebral palsy. For example, hemiplegia means that the person is affected on one side of the body. Diplegia is where two limbs are affected. Monoplegia where one limb is affected and Quadriplegia where all four limbs are affected.
Some people with cerebral palsy may have associated conditions; while others may not. These can include:
In general, people with cerebral palsy will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. Cerebral palsy itself is not progressive; the injury to the brain does not change. However, the effects may change over time for better or worse. Read more about ageing.
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