Cerebral palsy is the term used to describe a set of conditions, resulting from early damage to the brain, which result in problems with movement and coordination of the muscles. Because the disorder is the result of brain damage, there is no cure. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and minimizing complications. A good treatment plan for cerebral palsy is multidisciplinary, involving doctors in many specialties, and the type of care needed depends on the individual patient. Common treatments for cerebral palsy include medication, surgery, physical therapy, eyeglasses and hearing aids, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Doctors often use muscle relaxers to reduce tight muscles, alleviate spasms and reduce cramping. Injections of substances, such as phenol or Botox, are also used to treat localized muscle spasticity. In addition, anti seizure medications are prescribed, if the patient is experiencing seizures.
There are a variety of surgeries that can be required by cerebral palsy patients. Some of these include surgery to correct uneven growth in the limbs, repair of spine curvature, and severing of nerve roots that cause muscle spasticity. Surgeons are also frequently asked to place feeding tubes and to implant pumps for delivery of medication to the spinal cords of cerebral palsy patients. In addition, eye surgery to correct cross-eye or other focusing problems, caused by eye muscle dysfunction, is sometimes needed in those with this disorder.
This is the mainstay of CP treatment. Patients perform exercises to strengthen muscles and improve balance and the ability to move around. Stretching is also used extensively. This helps to delay the muscle contractures that limit mobility in cerebral palsy patients.
Many young cerebral palsy patients have muscles that can not grow fast enough to match their bones. This causes increased difficulty in walking, so specialized braces, called orthotic devices, are used, in conjunction with the regular physical therapy, to stretch these spastic muscles. Physical therapists also help to decide when mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, are needed.
It is easy to forget that speech requires very fine muscle control, so patients with CP often have problems in this area. Speech therapists help to develop more intelligible speech, wherever possible. If speech is too impaired, alternative means of communication are developed.
The main focus of this therapy is developing greater control of the hands. Patients work on performing daily tasks, like feeding and washing themselves. Therapists teach skills that allow patients to function more easily on a day to day basis. Therapy sessions also focus on teaching patients to use equipment, which will allow them to complete common tasks.
A Team Approach
Treating CP requires the skills of neurologists, surgeons, ophthalmologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, and many other medical professionals. In addition, a successful treatment plan requires a strong family support network. While cerebral palsy can not be cured, with a team approach, patients see an increased quality of life.