Types of Cerebral Palsy – Spastic, Athetoid, and Ataxic

Army doctory checks on boy with cerebral palsy It can be difficult for parents to hear that a child has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.  The medical term is frequently misunderstood, and many parents imagine the worst.  The majority of our birth injury cases are on behalf of children with cerebral palsy.  It is a privilege to represent these clients and their parents, and we have seen the positive impact that people with cerebral palsy can have on their families and communities.

Our philosophy is that even children with the most severe cerebral palsy can live extraordinary and fulfilling lives.  It can be a tough road, of course.  However, with the proper resources and education, these children can be happy.

General Information

Cerebral palsy is not a disease, but is a group of disorders that affects brain and nervous system functions.  The most obvious symptoms of cerebral are affected motor skills—people with cerebral palsy often require assistive devices (such as canes, crutches or wheelchairs).  Because of this, many people wrongly believe that cerebral palsy is muscular or bone condition.  In reality, those symptoms are caused by damage to the brain’s motor center, which prevents effective transmission of messages to the muscles that create movement.  Because of those limitations, other musculoskeletal (muscle and bone) injuries problems can arise.

One more important note—people with cerebral palsy do not necessarily have impaired mental function or developmental delays.  Those can be caused by the same types of injuries and insults during labor and delivery, but the two are not always hand-in-hand.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Between 70% and 90% of children with cerebral palsy have the spastic variety.  It is caused by damage to the cortical motor areas.  One word frequently used to describe the muscles of people with spastic cerebral palsy is hypertonia, which means abnormally increased muscle tone (or tension) in the muscles.  It is characterized by underdeveloped limbs with contractures (symptoms include rigidity of the joints).  Children may have hemiplegia (spasticity on one side of the body); paraplegia (affects the legs); diplegia (impairs either both arms or both legs); or quadriplegia (all four limbs are impaired).

The spasticity of the musculature can lead to early-onset arthritis and tendinitis.  People with this condition benefit from physical therapy, orthopedic devices and occupational therapy.

Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

Also called dyskinetic cerebral palsy, Athetoid cerebral palsy is typically characterized by slow and involuntary movements of the extremities.   Additionally, it can cause speech and language disorders. It affects approximately 11% to 15% of all people with cerebral palsy.  It is caused by injury to the basal ganglia, located near the center of the brain.  It can reveal itself through both increased muscle tone (hypertonia) and decreased muscle tone (hypotonia).  Treatments include physical therapy and speech therapy.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Representing about 5% to 10% of all people with cerebral palsy, Ataxic cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the cerebellum.  It is characterized by weakness, lack of coordination and difficulty with fine motor skills.  Unlike spastic cerebral palsy, it can cause decreased muscle tone.  Symptoms sometimes include tremors to affected areas.  Treatments include botox therapy to help muscle tone, and exercise.

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Some people have multiple types of brain injuries and therefore multiple types of cerebral palsy.

Contact Us

If your child has been diagnosed with any type of cerebral palsy, or if you suspect that your child suffered an injury at birth, contact our medical malpractice lawyers at (855) 712-7818 or send us an online request for more information.  We can help you find out whether your child is entitled to a lifetime of medical and other special needs benefits.

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