A Comprehensive Cerebral Palsy Resource

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders impacting brain and nervous system functions, which cause physical disabilities, such as movement, posture, vision, sight, hearing and cognitive skills.

This condition is further categorized into four main types, which include:

  • Spastic
  • Ataxic
  • Athetoid
  • Mixed

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is by far the most common type, affecting nearly 80% of all cases. The term “spastic” refers to unusually tight muscles. It results from brain damage occurring in the cerebral cortex. The condition can affect the body in different ways, including just one side or one set of limbs.

There are several different types of spastic cerebral palsy:

Spastic diplegia

affects the legs or arms of a person. People affected by spastic diplegia typically have a crouched gait. Both knees are excessively bent, making usage of a walker or wheelchair necessary.

Many victims of this type of cerebral palsy have normal intelligence, but they occasionally suffer from strabismus, which in plain language means “cross-eyed.” Nearsightedness can also be another effect of this condition.

The effects of spastic cerebral palsy can be successfully treated with a variety of different interventions.

Spastic hemiplegia

affects only one side of the body. While this can include an arm and leg, hemiplegia typically only affects one arm and hand.

Children affected by this condition usually walk later on in life and do so on their tiptoes. The limbs on the affected side are typically shorter and thinner than the non-affected side.

People affected by this condition will develop a curved spine (clinically called scoliosis), and may also end up suffering from seizures.

Speech is also strongly impacted, however intelligence usually remains unaffected.

Very often this type of cerebral palsy’s effects are so gradual that they go completely unnoticed by parents and doctors. If your child develops a hand preference before it is typically developed at the age of18-24 months, he or she may be suffering from hemiplegia.

Spastic quadriplegia

affects all four limbs rather than just the arms or legs. It is characterized by spasticity, or the unusually high level of tension in the muscles of all limbs. Some individuals confuse this with paralysis, which is a loss in functioning of limbs.

Its effects are more severe when compared to the other forms of cerebral palsy. The symptoms range from severe (virtually no ability for the person to move his or her limbs) to mild (partial functioning of limbs and fingers).

Besides the loss of use in limbs, persons with spastic quadriplegia also suffer from loss of bowel and bladder control, and speech, digestion, and sexual dysfunction issues.

They may also suffer from respiratory difficulties, bone fractures, sudden jerking, and heart disease.

Most individuals with this form of cerebral palsy are confined to a wheelchair or bed and require assistance to perform usual daily functions.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy typically involves low muscle tone and poor coordination. Literally, “ataxic” means poor coordination. People affected by this condition appear unsteady and shaky when standing.

This form of cerebral palsy is the least common form of cerebral palsy, as it accounts for 5-10% of all cases. While it typically results from damage to the cerebellum, researchers do not fully understand the exact causes of this form of cerebral palsy.

You will notice people affected by this type of cerebral palsy also have difficulty keeping their limbs steady, which is called dysmetria. When these individuals attempt to mentally concentrate on reaching for objects, their limbs shake increasingly as they get closer to the object. This is called an intention tremor. These tremors also occur when a cerebral palsy sufferer attempts tasks, such as writing or buttoning pants, requiring the control of specific muscles.

People affected by ataxic cerebral palsy also have difficulty maintaining proper balance. The person typically wobbles slightly while walking, which is formally called titubation. Many also walk with their feet unusually far apart.

Unlike spastic cerebral palsy, which can affect certain regions of your body, ataxic cerebral palsy affects your entire body, including facial muscles. Common facial symptoms you or your child may experience include jerky speech or unusual eye movement.

Athetoid (or “Dyskinetic”) Cerebral Palsy

Like ataxic cerebral palsy, athetoid cerebral palsy accounts for approximately 10% of all cases. Athetoid cerebral palsy typically results from damage sustained by the cerebellum or basal ganglia.

Both regions of the brain aid in processing neurological signals which enable proper coordination and posture. This form of cerebral palsy is primarily characterized by involuntary writhing movements in the limbs and outer extremities, which tend to increase as a cerebral palsy sufferer becomes stressed.

Other symptoms this form of cerebral palsy presents include:

  • Random, jerky, and repetitive involuntary movements
  • Extreme difficulty or an inability to maintain correct posture
  • An inability to sit or walk
  • Substantial difficulty performing daily tasks such as eating, writing, or dressing
  • Uncontrollable facial movements
  • Drooling
  • Severely impaired speech, clinically called dysarthia
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Appearing restless
  • Seizures

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Approximately 10% of all people with cerebral palsy suffer from more than one form of the disorder. Although it is rare, some people do suffer from all three forms. The most common form of mixed cerebral palsy is a combination of spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy.

The tightness of the spastic cerebral palsy is typically present along with the involuntary movements of athetoid cerebral palsy.

People affected by mixed cerebral palsy often suffer from uncontrollable movements such as sticking out the tongue and grimacing facial expressions. Much like athetoid cerebral palsy, the symptoms of mixed cerebral palsy are most present during periods of high stress.