What is Cerebral Palsy? According to Nemours Children's Health System, cerebral palsy (CP) is defined as a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way). CP can also lead to other health issues, including vision, hearing, and speech problems, and learning disabilities.
CP is usually caused by brain damage that occurs before or during a child's birth, or during the first 3 to 5 years of a child's life. There are several types of cerebral palsy which involve damage to different parts of the brain, and affect body movement, posture and muscle coordination. These types are categorized into four types: spastic, athetoid, ataxic, and mixed.
- Spastic cerebral palsy. This is the most common form of cerebral palsy and accounts for nearly 50-80 percent of all CP cases. The symptoms include stiff, difficult and limited movement. Children with the spastic variety have stiff and jerky movements. They often have a hard time moving from one position to another. They may also have a hard time holding and letting go of objects. In some areas of the body muscle tone is so high that the tight muscle's antagonists have completely let go.
- Athetoid cerebral palsy. This form is less common than spastic cerebral palsy and accounts for up to 20- 30% of all children affected by CP. The symptoms include involuntary and uncontrolled movement, and very weak muscles. Athetoid cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum or basal ganglia. These areas of the brain are responsible for processing the signals that enable coordinated and smooth movements as well as maintaining body posture. These movements may also interfere with everyday functions such as speaking, feeding, reaching, grasping, and other skills requiring coordinated movements.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy. This form is more rarely seen and involves tremors, chronic shaking, and poor balance. It affects approximately 5 - 10% of all CP clients. These clients have low muscle tone and poor coordination of movement. Children with ataxic cerebral palsy look very unsteady and shaky. This rare form of cerebral palsy also affects the child's sense of balance and depth perception.
- Mixed cerebral palsy. Approximately 10 -20% of clients with cerbral palsy live with combinations of the CP forms. These children have both the tight muscle tone of spastic cerebral palsy and the involuntary movements of athetoid cerebral palsy. This is because they have injuries to both the pyramidal and extrapyramidal areas of the brain. A child's CP may also be classified by what part of the body is affected. For example: hemiplegic CP means the left or right side is affected; diplegic CP means either two arms or two legs are affected; and quadriplegic CP means all the extremities are affected to some extent.
Although there is no cure for CP, treatment, therapy, special equipment, and, in some cases, surgery can help a child who is living with the condition. Children with cerebral palsy usually receive combinations of therapies to help manage their condition. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy, and speech therapy are helpful in managing cerebral palsy.
Many parents and healthcare professionals report very positive results after receiving pediatric massage therapy from a skilled and trained pediatric massage therapist specializing in this area. Results often include decreased tone in spastic muscles, relief from tension and spasms, increase in circulation in paralyzed limbs, and improved blood circulation and digestion.
For parents and healthcare providers considering a treatment plan for cerebral palsy, massage therapy is a nurturing intervention which should wholeheartedly examined and introduced early to achieve full benefit for family and child.
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