What is Cerebral Palsy (CP) in Children?

What is Cerebral Palsy (CP) in Children?

Cerebral Palsy affects a child’s ability to complete daily tasks such as walking, playing and writing. There are a few different types of Cerebral Palsy that have varying symptoms. In this blog, we discuss how the condition affects children and how physiotherapy can be used as an effective treatment to allow children to reach their full potential.

So what is CP (cerebral palsy) in children? Cerebral Palsy in children is a neurological condition that affects motor functions such as body movement, control over muscles and coordination. Children’s physiotherapy can be introduced to increase mobility, improve muscle strength and promote physical development.

Read on to learn more about the non-progressive Cerebral Palsy and how children’s physiotherapy can be used as a method of treatment. 

How Does Cerebral Palsy Present in Children?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is now a widely used diagnosis given to many children; it is a term that can cover a wide spectrum of varying degrees of disability. It may include a mild impairment that only minimally affects a child’s everyday function, or a child may present with full body involvement and use a wheelchair as their permanent mobility. 

It is widely accepted that Cerebral Palsy in children refers to a non-progressive, neurological disorder that is caused by a brain injury or developmental malformation of the brain. It is primarily a motor function disorder that affects muscle movements, posture and coordination. This can present in many different ways and each individual is unique.

To simplify this further, CP affects the way an individual can move and control some of their muscles. This can be often due to fluctuations in the tone of their muscles. Tone refers to the amount of resistance that occurs when you try to move a limb or muscle. For most people with normal muscle tone, when relaxed, they can easily bend their elbow so that their hand is close to their shoulder. In a relaxed state the main muscles around our joints are not rigid so can be passively moved. 

For a chid with Cerebral Palsy this may be slightly different. They may have high tone (hypertonia or spasticity) which would mean there is excessive resistance to any movement of certain muscles. They could also have some muscles which are low tone (hypotonic) and appear more “floppy” than you would expect. This then affects their ability to move and control any of these muscle groups.

What Are the Different Types of Cerebral Palsy in Children?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is often broken down and classified even further, depending on how or where a child is affected:

  • Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy – Where it only affects one side of the body
  • Diplegic Cerebral Palsy – If only the lower limbs are affected
  • Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy –  If all 4 limbs are affected 
  • Athetoid Cerebral Palsy – Constant unwanted movements, even when trying to sit still
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy – Poorly controlled and co-ordinated or awkward movements

These all involve some degree of high tone (spasticity). However, like many disorders, it is not easily “labelled” and even within each classification, every child will present very differently.

How Can Physiotherapy be Used to Treat Cerebral Palsy in Children?

From a physiotherapy perspective, a full assessment can provide us with vital information about which main muscle groups are most affected. Rigid, high tone muscles can often lead to joints becoming stiff and even having reduced range of movement, which then affects function further. Unwanted movements and/or low tone can make mobility and simple tasks such as sitting on a school chair very difficult. It is our job to try to help a child reach their full potential and minimise any limits to their everyday function. 

As children develop and grow, they learn how to interact with the world. This can be more difficult for children with Cerebral Palsy due to their struggles with movement. Physiotherapy can completely transform a child’s lifestyle, helping them to reach their full potential. 

For more information on what physiotherapy can do for a child, check out our recent blog. In the article linked, we also discuss the types of physiotherapy that we can offer for children from four to twelve years old.

What is the Purpose of Cerebral Palsy Physiotherapy?

The purpose of introducing physiotherapy for children with Cerebral Palsy is to:

  • Increase their mobility
  • Improve muscle tone, strength and activation
  • Promoting physical development
  • Decreasing muscle tightness and spasms
  • Promote independent movement

Through working with children to improve these areas, can help them manage everyday tasks such as walking, balancing and fine motor skills. Children will feel a sense of accomplishment as they work towards their goals and will see a positive impact on their mental health. 

What Treatment Options Are Available for Children with Cerebral Palsy?

The treatment options available to help achieve the goals listed above are:

  • Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) – use of electrodes on muscles to help with sensory feedback, muscle innervation, and timing
  • Dynamic Movement Intervention Therapy (DMI) – if you’d like to find out more about DMI therapy, read our recent blog post
  • Whole Body Vibration
  • Strength training
  • Therapeutic handling 
  • Active stretching
  • Treadmill Training 
  • Hydrotherapy

The key is to make sure children have fun during physiotherapy sessions by including interactive activities that encourage the children to work hard in a comfortable environment. 

There are a large number of other conditions that physiotherapy can treat including Down’s Syndrome and Plagiocephaly. We have recently written a blog about this which you can read here.

Cerebral Palsy Physiotherapy for Children

At Therapy Stars, we want to help your child reach their full potential in a fun and engaging way. Our children’s physiotherapy service is available from birth up to the age of 18 and beyond into adulthood. 

Why not book a complimentary call to discuss your child’s needs and find out how we support their lifestyle change.