Cerebral palsy is the term used for a number of neurological disorders that are caused by the central nervous system and brain. The condition involves the parts of the brain that are responsible for the control of muscles, and it can occur when something happens that causes damage or abnormal development in the brain. Although the condition is incurable, the right cerebral palsy treatment can improve quality of life significantly.
What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?
In most cases, cerebral palsy will become apparent during the first three years of a child’s life. Among the symptoms are muscle weakness, stiff or flaccid muscles, involuntary movements and co-ordination problems. There are varying degrees of the condition, so some children will display only very mild symptoms, while others will be profoundly disabled. Among the symptoms of cerebral palsy during the advanced stages of the condition are seizures, swallowing difficulties and drooling problems. However, many sufferers can communicate and learn completely normally.
What treatments are available for cerebral palsy sufferers?
Although there is no cure for cerebral palsy, there are a number of treatments available that improve quality of life and give sufferers a degree of independence.
A course of physiotherapy is usually started from the moment a diagnosis is made. It is a critical part of managing this debilitating condition, and it includes exercises aimed at strengthening little-used muscles. A physiotherapist will also work on certain muscle groups in order to stop them shortening and eventually losing their full movement range. Contracture is the shortening of muscles, which can lead to deformities and extreme pain if it is not treated regularly. Some children will need to wear specially designed leg and arm braces to stretch muscles and maintain a healthy posture.
One of the symptoms of cerebral palsy is slurred speech. Speech therapists work with children in order to help them speak as clearly as possible. It may be necessary for some children to learn sign language, however. And in some rare cases, children may be given a special piece of technology that includes a computer which is connected to a speech synthesiser.
One of the key goals during any treatment plan for cerebral palsy is to maximise the quality of life for the child. One way to do this is to take steps to ensure that the sufferer can lead as independent a life as their cerebral palsy allows. Occupational therapists teach children coping mechanisms that can be relied upon during day-to-day life. Occupational therapy also includes home visits, in order that living environments and family life can be modified according to the needs of the sufferer.
Where the muscles of a child become particularly stiff, a course of medication may be needed in order to relax them as much as possible. In most cases, diazepam will be administered. However, baclofen may be recommended depending on the side-effects caused by diazepam. Where localised muscle stiffness has been identified, botulinum toxin injections may be administered.
If previous treatments have failed, and scans have shown damage to the brain’s white matter, a selective dorsal rhizotomy may be recommended. This step is only taken when medication and physiotherapy have failed to relieve the symptoms of muscle stiffness. It involves the cutting of nerves in the spine, which can often deliver instant relief to stiffness in the legs. A comprehensive programme of physiotherapy is needed after this operation, however, as children will need to ‘relearn’ how to use their legs again.
A leading children’s hospital may recommend a child has single event multilevel surgery (SEMLS), which involves a single surgical event that addresses several bone and muscle issues at the same time. Although a specialist team of orthopaedic surgeons is required to carry out this complex surgery, it means the patient only has one period of rehabilitation and recuperation, rather than several. The procedures carried out during such an operation involve the lengthening of key muscles and tendons in order to increase the mobility of the patient.
Cerebral palsy in babies can be difficult to spot during the first few months after childbirth. If you notice muscle stiffness, rapid, uncontrolled muscle movements or floppiness in your child’s limbs, you should contact a doctor immediately. A quick diagnosis and the immediate start of treatment can greatly reduce the effects of this debilitating condition.