Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. CP affects the part of the brain that controls muscle movements. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood.

What causes CP?

CP is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control his or her muscles. This damage can happen during pregnancy, at birth, or in the first years of a child’s life.

Types of CP

Cerebral Palsy is classified according to the main type of movement disorder involved. Depending on which areas of the brain are affected, one or more of the following movement disorders can occur:

  • Stiff muscles (spasticity)
  • Uncontrollable movements (dyskinesia)
  • Poor balance and coordination (ataxia)

Cerebral Palsy is classified into four types:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic CP is the most common type of CP.  People with spastic CP have increased muscle tone. Spastic CP is described by what parts of the body are affected:

  • Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis typically affects the arm and hand on one side of the body, but it can also include the leg.
  • Spastic diplegia/diparesis involves muscle stiffness that is predominantly in the legs and less severely affects the arms and face.
  • Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis is the most severe form of cerebral palsy. It is caused by widespread damage to the brain or significant brain malformations.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy (also includes athetoid, choreoathetoid, and dystonia) is characterized by slow and uncontrollable writhing or jerky movements of the hands, feet, arms, or legs.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxia Cerebral Palsy affects balance and depth perception. Individuals with ataxic CP may be unsteady when they walk and may have a difficult time controlling their hands or arms.

Mixed Types

Mixed types of CP refer to symptoms that do not correspond to any single type of CP but are a mix of types. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.

Cerebral Palsy is described using several different classification systems that are shared among multiple medical and allied health care specialties. Some classification systems describe a patient’s functional mobility or movement disorder while others focus on affected body parts. None of these systems address the intellectual capability of the patient, which is frequently normal across all classification levels.

Symptoms of CP

The symptoms of CP vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. CP does not get worse over time but symptoms may change (get better or worse) as a child grows.

All people with CP have problems with movement and posture. Many also have related conditions such as intellectual disability ; seizures; problems with vision , hearing, or speech; changes in the spine (such as scoliosis); or joint problems (such as contractures).

Learn More about CP from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention