What is Cerebral Palsy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. CP is the most common motor disability in childhood.

Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. 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.

The type of movement issues seen in a person with CP depends on how severely a brain injury has impacted muscle tone. Muscle tone is defined as the strength and tension of the muscles.

There are two common terms used to describe how cerebral palsy affects muscle tone – hypotonia and hypertonia.

  • Hypotonia – Low muscle tone, causing a loss of strength and firmness
  • Hypertonia – High muscle tone, causing rigidity and spasmodic movement

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are four major types of cerebral palsy:

  • Spastic (Hypertonic)
  • Athetoid
  • Ataxic
  • Mixed Type

Spastic Cerebral Palsy (Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy)

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of CP, making up 70 to 80 percent of cases. People with spastic cerebral palsy often experience exaggerated or jerky movements (hypertonia).

Common signs and symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy include:

  • Awkward reflexes
  • Stiffness in one part of the body
  • Contractures (permanently tightened muscles or joints)
  • Difficulty walking or controlling movements of the body

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

About 10 percent of children with cerebral palsy are diagnosed with athetoid CP, or “non-spastic CP”. This type of CP is characterised by a mixture of hypotonia and hypertonia, which causes muscle tone to fluctuate. The main trait of athetoid cerebral palsy is involuntary movement in the face, torso, and limbs.

Common symptoms associated with athetoid cerebral palsy include:

  • Stiff or rigid body
  • Floppiness in the limbs
  • Problems with posture
  • Issues feeding

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy makes up a small percentage of cases. Ataxia is a type of CP that causes problems with balance and coordination. Those with ataxic CP typically have issues surrounding voluntary movement.

Common symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy include:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Problems with depth perception
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Spreading feet apart when walking

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Mixed CP makes up less than 10% of all CP cases. Sometimes damage to the developing brain is not confined to one location. In these circumstances, it is possible for a child to develop cerebral palsy that is characteristic of multiple brain injuries. 

Hypertonic CP vs Hypotonic CP

Cerebral palsy impacts each child differently. This is why there are multiple types of CP. One of these classifications is based on muscle tone. Hypertonic CP is more common than hypotonic CP. And because these kids are on the higher end of the muscle tone spectrum, stiff limbs and muscle spasms are common. 

What causes Cerebral Palsy?

There are a number of different events that can cause or contribute to the development of cerebral palsy, including:

  • Maternal or neonatal infections
  • Preeclampsia or maternal hypertension
  • Extreme prematurity and low birth weight
  • Fetal or neonatal stroke
  • Difficult and prolonged labor and delivery
  • Medical mistakes and negligence, such as failing to carry out an emergency C-section when indicated, failing to address maternal medical conditions or infections
  • Certain medications or illicit drugs are taken during pregnancy

What are the Treatment Options for Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy?

Along with physical therapy, one of the most effective treatment options for hypotonic CP is custom-made braces from Surestep. Their innovative approach gently moves the child’s feet into proper alignment while providing them much-needed stability. And although Surestep is best known for helping kids with low tone, their Indy 2 Stage is a great solution for high tone!

To get started with orthotics, talk to your pediatrician or physical therapist about Surestep. 


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