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NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page

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Condensed from Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research

Table of Contents (click to jump to sections)

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What is Cerebral Palsy?

The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time. Even though cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it isn’t caused by problems in the muscles or nerves.  It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements.  The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until months or years later. The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age.  The most common are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy.  A small number of children have cerebral palsy as the result of brain damage in the first few months or years of life, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or head injury from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.

Is there any treatment?

Cerebral palsy can’t be cured, but treatment will often improve a child's capabilities.  In general, the earlier treatment begins the better chance children have of overcoming developmental disabilities or learning new ways to accomplish the tasks that challenge them.   Treatment may include physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, drugs to control seizures, relax muscle spasms, and alleviate pain; surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles; braces and other orthotic devices; wheelchairs and rolling walkers; and communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers. 

What is the prognosis?

Cerebral palsy doesn’t always cause profound disabilities.  While one child with severe cerebral palsy might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another with mild cerebral palsy might not require special assistance. Supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.

What research is being done?

Researchers are investigating the roles of mishaps early in brain development, including genetic defects, which are sometimes responsible for the brain malformations and abnormalities that result in cerebral palsy. Scientists are also looking at traumatic events in newborn babies’ brains, such as bleeding, epileptic seizures, and breathing and circulation problems, which can cause the abnormal release of chemicals that trigger the kind of damage that causes cerebral palsy.  Researchers also hope to find ways to prevent white matter disease--the most common cause of cerebral palsy.  To make sure children are getting the right kinds of therapies, studies are also being done that evaluate both experimental treatments and treatments already in use so that physicians and parents have valid information to help them choose the best therapy.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Cerebral Palsy Clinical Trials


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United Cerebral Palsy (UCP)
1825 K St NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20006
Tel: 202-776-0406 800-USA-5UCP (872-5827)
Fax: 202-776-0414
150 N. Michigan Avenue
Suite 2100
Chicago, IL 60601
Tel: 800-955-CHILD (2445)
Fax: 312-893-6621

March of Dimes
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
Tel: 914-997-4488 888-MODIMES (663-4637)
Fax: 914-428-8203

Easter Seals
233 South Wacker Drive
Suite 2400
Chicago, IL 60606
Tel: 312-726-6200 800-221-6827
Fax: 312-726-1494

Pediatric Brain Foundation (formerly Children's Neurobiological Solutions)
2925 E. Battlefield Road
Suite 225B
Springfield, MO 65804
Tel: (310) 889-8611

Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Assocn. (CHASA)
4101 West Green Oaks Blvd., Ste. 305
PMB 149
Arlington, TX 76016
Tel: 817-492-4325

Cerebral Palsy Foundation
3 Columbus Circle, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10019
Tel: 212-520-1686
Fax: 917-599-0431

Pedal-with-Pete Foundation [for Research on Cerebral Palsy]
P.O. Box 1233
Worthington, OH 43085
Tel: 614-527-0202
Fax: 330-673-1240

Reaching for the Stars
3000 Old Alabama Road
Suite 119 – 300
Alpharetta, GA 30022
Tel: 855-240-7387

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
31 Center Drive, Rm. 2A32 MSC 2425
Bethesda, MD 20892-2425
Tel: 301-496-5133
Fax: 301-496-7101

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Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last Modified July 2, 2015