Signs of Cerebral Palsy

What is cerebral policy?

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.

What are the signs of cerebral palsy?

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.

Damage to the developing brain can cause other types of neurological symptoms. Again, since these symptoms and signs are related to the severity of brain damage and the regions of the brain that are affected, the clinical picture varies among affected persons. Cognitive function may be reduced, or intellectual capacity may be normal. Some affected people may have vision disturbances including blindness; others may have hearing problems. Speech and language disorders, including problems with control of the muscles required for speaking and swallowing, accompany the motor dysfunction in some people with the condition.

Sometimes cerebral palsy symptoms are unique to the individual

Every individual is unique, and this particularly holds true for people affected by cerebral palsy. It isn't possible to describe the symptoms and signs that are characteristic of this condition other than in very general terms. Even with similar types and severity of brain damage, the signs and manifestation of the condition will vary among affected individuals. For this reason, therapy and management of the condition is tailored to each individual by a treatment team that typically includes a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and mental health care professional. Although there is no cure for this lifelong problem, the treatment team tries to help the individual become as independent as is possible within the individual's limitations caused by cerebral palsy.

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Medically reviewed by Margaret Walsh, MD; American Board of Pediatrics


Abdel-Hamid, Hoda Z., et al. "Cerebral Palsy." Medscape. 9 Dec. 2011.