Cerebral palsy is a new name for a disorder that has affected children for millennia. Since cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage occurring before, during or after birth, it has most likely occurred through human evolution.
Cerebral Palsy in the 1800's
The first medical descriptions of cerebral palsy were recorded by a British surgeon named William Little in 1861. Dr. Little was an orthopedic surgeon puzzled by a disorder he saw repeatedly in his practice of medicine. The disorder appeared to strike children in their first few years and was characterized by stiff, spastic limbs. Dr. Little published a paper describing his patients and their difficulties walking, crawling and grinding objects. He noted the condition did not seem to be progressive, nor did it improve. His paper was the first of its kind receiving any real study so the disease was named Littles Disease. As Dr. Little studied the disorder, he further noted many children affected by the disease were premature or had experienced a difficult delivery. He proposed the disease might be caused by a lack of oxygen during the birthing process.
As science progressed and more doctors studied Littles Disease, differenting opinions arose. In 1897, Dr. Sigmund Freud published papers describing his beliefs about the origins of Littles Disease. His studies led him to believe the cause of Littles occurred much earlier than the birthing process. Dr. Freud observed affected children had other problems not just associated with movement disorders. Since many children with Littles also had vision injury, mental shortcomings and seizures, Freud thought the disorder began as the brain developed in the womb. He believed Dr. Little's observances of disease's association with premature and difficult birth were correct. However, Freud thought the birthing difficulties were spurred by earlier developmental problems of the fetus. Freud's scientific observations were later proved correct, but were not accepted until the late 1980's.
Advances in Cerebral Palsy Treatment
The term cerebral palsy was first used by Sir William Osler, a British medical doctor in the late 1800's. It became widely known and soon replaced the earlier name of Littles Disease. No great strides were made in the field of cerebral palsy until the 1980s when a government funded study combined about 35,000 cerebral palsy births. The study found relatively few cases of cerebral palsy were actually accompanied by trauma at birth. This revelation sparked interest in the medical community about cerebral palsy.
Great changes occurred in the field of medicine in the past 50 years. As medicine advanced there came new understanding of cerebral palsy. Biomedical research found new risk factors for the contraction of the disorder when studies determined infection during fetus development could result in cerebral palsy. German measles, jaundice and Rh disease were found to be risk factors for cerebral palsy as well. Medical advances provided ways to mitigate risk factors responsible for the brain damage causing cerebral palsy.
The 1990's brought advances in the early diagnosis of cerebral palsy in infants. It was determined early identification of the disorder helps prevent permanent contracture of limbs. Progress was made in diagnostic techniques for brain imaging and analysis. Therapies were developed to help increase physical movement. Braces and assistive technologies helped facilitate mobility and increase quality of life. Changes in the perception of counseling and psychological services helped people with cerebral palsy deal with the emotional effects of the disorder.
Cerebral Palsy Treatments Today
Recently, three new therapies have been successful in treating the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Botox injected into certain muscle groups allows for increased range of motion and stretching of the limbs. The Baclofen pump continuously supplies a drug to spinal cord nerves which helps relax muscle tension. A new surgery called selective dorsal rhizotomy permanently reduces spasticity in muscle groups, especially in the legs.
As advances in medicine continue, new and better treatments for cerebral palsy will emerge. Research continues to investigate all aspects of the disorder. The more information overlooked, the more advances made and the better prospects will be for those suffering from cerebral palsy.