Cerebral Palsy

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common physical disability of childhood.  The term CP itself is an umbrella term for a group of disorders that affect   body movement and posture as a result of damage to a baby’s developing brain.  There are many causes for CP, but all occur either during pregnancy, birth or shortly after birth. Common causes include differences in brain development, infection, or stroke. 

Oxygen deprivation is now understood to be accountable for only a small percentage of cases of CP; often, the cause is unknown.  Although CP is a lifelong condition that can’t be reversed, children with the diagnosis can lead rich, fulfilling lives with the right medical and surgical management.

Sometimes, cerebral palsy occurs as a complication of another condition, like premature birth, low birthweight or neurological trauma. However, it often occurs for no identifiable reason. 

•   diplegia: when cerebral palsy only affects your child's legs.
•   hemiplegia: symptoms occur on only one side of the body
•   dyskinetic movements: children with cerebral palsy can experience involuntary muscle movements
•   dystonia: some kids with CP have rigidity in their legs or arms.
•   CP can cause muscle tone to be too high (this is called spasticity) or too low (which causes problems
    with balance).

Although CP is a lifelong condition that can’t be reversed, there are many ways to medically and surgically manage the disorder and its symptoms.

The information on the following pages will help you learn the basics about CP and know what to expect in the days and months ahead. 

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches cerebral palsy

The team of experts in the Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity Center are dedicated to helping kids and adults with CP enjoy a great quality of life. 

Since "cerebral palsy" is actually a term that covers several different types of brain injury, it's important to seek treatment from experts who understand:

•   a child's CP symptoms might not match any given “textbook” example
•   many parts of a child’s body may be affected by CP
•   how and why other medical conditions can occur alongside CP
•   the vital role of orthopedic support in helping kids with CP 

Our program provides interdisciplinary evaluation and treatment for children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular conditions. We combine expertise in orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery, among several other specialties, to improve the functional capabilities of more than 2,000 patients of all ages each year