Signs of Cerebral Palsy
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Cerebral palsy literally means “brain paralysis.” This term is somewhat of a misnomer and was coined over a hundred years ago to refer to a group of patients with abnormalities in movement and posture that occur from infancy and persist throughout life. Rather than one disease, cerebral palsy represents a widely variable spectrum of conditions, all of which have in common a disruption of normal brain function and development during pregnancy, birth, or early infancy. An important point about cerebral palsy is that the dysfunction is nonprogressive, meaning the condition remains stable but does not worsen over time, in contrast to other neurological abnormalities that may become progressively more severe over time.
The hallmark signs of cerebral palsy are disturbances of movement and/or posture. These symptoms are usually noticed in individuals between the ages of 3 months to about 2 years old. This can manifest in infants as abnormal muscle tone (either too relaxed or too rigid), changes in resistance to passive movement of the body (either too much or too little resistance), poor crawling, and failure to meet appropriate developmental milestones (such as those involving head control, rolling, walking, and sitting). The severity of all these signs is related to the location and extent of damage that occurred in the developing brain. For example, some of those affected may not be able to walk unaided while others may have only a minor gait disturbance.