Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a devastating condition that occurs during childbirth and lasts for the entire life of a child. Cerebral refers to the brain; palsy refers to the impairment of motor function. Doctors generally diagnose CP in newborn children and babies. Doctors characterize CP by one or more tight muscle groups that limit movement. Children who suffer from CP will show signs of stiff and jerky movements as early as their first days.
What Are the Causes of Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy occurs when the developing brain has been damaged or has abnormalities that prevent proper control of movement and balance. There are several causes of cerebral palsy; however, it generally occurs because of brain damage sustained by a baby before, during, or after birth. The majority of children diagnosed with CP were born with it, which is known as congenital cerebral palsy; however, the condition is seen is far more often in babies that have suffered birth injuries like:
- Brachial Plexus Injury – The network of nerves running through the spine suffer damage.
- Shoulder Dystocia – When doctors cause damage from using extra force to deliver a baby whose body cannot pass after the head.
- Forceps Delivery Injury – The mother or baby suffer damage from excessive force used with forceps to deliver the child.
- Vacuum Extraction Injury – A vacuum instrument causes nerve damage or injuries to the mother or child.
- Hypoxia – Where the mother or baby suffers an injury due to lack of oxygen. If oxygen is cut off completely or the flow of oxygen is reduced to the brain for an extended period of time, a baby can develop brain damage that destroys tissue in the brain.
Non-congenital cases of CP in children are considered acquired cerebral palsy, as the disorder began after birth from brain damage in the first few months of life, brain infections, viral encephalitis, problems with blood flow to the brain, or a head injury due to a car accident, fall, or child abuse. While medical experts can’t always determine an exact cause, the above listed injuries increase a child’s risk of developing the condition.
What are the Signs of Cerebral Palsy?
Signs of CP typically appear very early on in a child’s life; however, the specific diagnosis may be delayed until the child reaches two years of age or older. A common sign of CP in infants is experiencing developmental delays. A child with CP may not reach developmental milestones, including learning how to roll over, crawl, sit up, or walk. Another early sign of CP is abnormal muscle tone, either decreased (hypotonia) which can make an infant seem overly relaxed or increased (hypertonia) which can make an infant seem very tense or stiff. Parents may also see unusual posture or the child favoring one side of the body when moving or reaching for objects. Babies with CP may have their legs turned inward when their parents pick them up and have difficulty lifting their heads.
Treatments for Cerebral Palsy
Unfortunately, even in our technologically advanced society, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are there are a range of treatments for those with the disorder that can often improve a child’s capabilities. The earlier the cerebral palsy is diagnosed, the more effective treatments can be. There is no standard treatment plan that works for all children with CP; however, doctors will work with a team of healthcare professionals to find what works best for each individual patient. A combination of the following therapies, along with support from family and friends, can help a child with CP live a near-normal life:
- Physical Therapy – a physical therapist can help a child with CP improve muscle strength, balance, and motor skills through a variety of exercises (e.g. strength training programs).
- Speech and Language Therapy – a speech therapist can improve a child’s speech, teach a child new ways to communicate, and help with chewing and swallowing.
- Occupational Therapy – an occupational therapist will focus on making the most of the child’s mobility, including working on basic daily routines (putting on clothes, brushing their teeth, etc.).
- Recreational Therapy – recreational therapists encourage involvement in sports, art programs, and other social events that expand the physical and/or cognitive skills of the child.
There are other treatments that can help manage the symptoms of CP. Certain oral and injected drug treatments have proven effective in helping relax contracted or overactive muscles. These medications do have associated risks and side effects and require constant monitoring by a medical professional. As a child with CP gets older, they have options for medical devices that can assist with daily tasks and communication. Orthotic devices, including braces and splints, can help compensate for muscle imbalances and increase independence. If unable to move independently, wheelchairs, rolling walkers, and powered scooters can help individuals with CP continue with daily routines.
Unfortunately, these treatments, medications, and assistive devices are not inexpensive. Families with children who have cerebral palsy are often financially burdened with bills for long-term cerebral palsy care, including medical expenses, therapy programs, and special education.
Philadelphia Cerebral Palsy Lawyers
If your child has cerebral palsy and you suspect a birth injury may be the cause, there is limited time to act. Call the experienced Philadelphia birth injury lawyers at Lopez McHugh LLP for a free and confidential consultation.