A Comprehensive Cerebral Palsy Resource

Spastic Cerebral Palsy: What Is It?

Cerebral palsy is a complex disease and one that can have many different diagnoses within the umbrella of “cerebral palsy.” Despite all of the medical advances surrounding childbirth in the past 100 years, we still have 1 in 500 children born with cerebral palsy each year. Many of these children will display signs of spasticity by the age of two because spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type. It affects 80 out of 100 cerebral palsy patients, making it difficult or in some cases nearly impossible for them to move around easily and comfortably in their own bodies.

The causes of cerebral palsy can be hard to sort out, but the cause of spasticity is relatively straightforward: it is the result of brain damage to the area controlling the tenseness of a muscle. What happens when this area of the brain isn’t working properly is a lack of communication between the spinal cord and the affected muscle(s) and the affected nerves. Thus, the muscles end up tensed up of their own accord, and the brain cannot loosen or relax them the way it normally would. This means that the person with spastic cerebral palsy has a hard time walking or moving in a smooth and controlled way, lifting and holding onto objects, and doing something as complex as playing sports or as simple as sitting with his or her legs dangling off the couch. The spasticity can affect any combination of the four extremities.

In addition to the difficulties presented by daily life, deformities of the arms and legs can develop over time due to the constant stress on the tightened muscles, preventing normal stretching and growth. This is why physical therapy plays such a huge and important role in the lives of people with spastic cerebral palsy. However, physical therapy only treats the symptoms and not the causes, which is the problem with most of the treatments currently available for spastic cerebral palsy: they are temporary. These treatments include the aforementioned physical therapy, braces, Botox injections, baclofen infusions, and orthopedic surgery. Each treatment has varying success rates and potential serious complications, making them unsuitable as permanent solutions to the problem. Selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery, by contrast, has emerged as the best, and best studied, treatment for children and in some cases adults with spastic cerebral palsy. SDR Surgery: What Is It and Who Should Have It?