Cerebral Palsy

Signs and symptoms can vary greatly. Movement and coordination problems associated with cerebral palsy may include:

  • Variations in muscle tone, such as being either too stiff or too floppy

  • Stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity)

  • Stiff muscles with normal reflexes (rigidity)

  • Lack of muscle coordination (ataxia)

  • Tremors or involuntary movements

  • Slow, writhing movements (athetosis)

  • Delays in reaching motor skills milestones, such as pushing up on arms, sitting up alone or crawling

  • Favoring one side of the body, such as reaching with only one hand or dragging a leg while crawling

  • Difficulty walking, such as walking on toes, a crouched gait, a scissors-like gait with knees crossing, a wide gait or an asymmetrical gait

  • Excessive drooling or problems with swallowing

  • Difficulty with sucking or eating

  • Delays in speech development or difficulty speaking

  • Difficulty with precise motions, such as picking up a crayon or spoon

  • Seizures

The disability associated with cerebral palsy may be limited primarily to one limb or one side of the body, or it may affect the whole body. The brain disorder causing cerebral palsy doesn't change with time, so the symptoms usually don't worsen with age. However, muscle shortening and muscle rigidity may worsen if not treated aggressively.

Brain abnormalities associated with cerebral palsy also may contribute to other neurological problems.

People with cerebral palsy may also have:

  • Difficulty with vision and hearing

  • Intellectual disabilities

  • Seizures

  • Abnormal touch or pain perceptions

  • Oral diseases

  • Mental health (psychiatric) conditions

  • Urinary incontinence

When to see a doctor?

It's important to get a prompt diagnosis for any movement disorder or possible delays in your child's development. See your child's doctor if you have any questions or concerns about episodes of loss of awareness of surroundings or of abnormal bodily movements (also known as seizures), abnormal muscle tone, impaired coordination, swallowing difficulties, eye muscle imbalance, or other developmental issues.


Cerebral palsy is caused by an abnormality or disruption in brain development, usually before a child is born. In many cases, the exact trigger isn't known. Factors that may lead to problems with brain development include:

  • Mutations in genes that lead to abnormal brain development

  • Maternal infections that affect the developing fetus

  • Fetal stroke, a disruption of blood supply to the developing brain

  • Infant infections that cause inflammation in or around the brain

  • Traumatic head injury to an infant from a motor vehicle accident or fall

  • Lack of oxygen to the brain (asphyxia) related to difficult labor or delivery, although birth-related asphyxia is much less commonly a cause than historically thought


A variety of non-drug therapies can help a person with cerebral palsy enhance functional abilities:

  • Physical Therapy. Muscle training and exercises may help you with strength, flexibility, balance, motor development and mobility. You'll also learn how to safely care for your everyday needs at home, such as bathing and feeding.

Braces or splints may be recommended for you. Some of these supports help with function, such as improved walking. Others may stretch stiff muscles to help prevent rigid muscles (contractures).

  • Occupational Therapy. Using alternative strategies and adaptive equipment, occupational therapists work to promote independent participation in daily activities and routines in the home, and the community.

Adaptive equipment may include walkers, quadrupedal canes, seating systems or electric wheelchairs.

  • Speech and Language Therapy. Speech-language pathologists can help improve the ability to speak clearly or to communicate using sign language.

Speech-language pathologists can also teach you to use communication devices, such as a computer and voice synthesizer, if communication is difficult.

Another communication device may be a board covered with pictures of items and activities you may see in daily life. Sentences can be constructed by pointing to the pictures.

Speech therapists may also address difficulties with muscles used in eating and swallowing.

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