What is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

babySpastic, or pyramidal, cerebral palsy (CP), is the most common type of cerebral palsy. It is also the most severe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates around 80% of people with CP have the spastic type. Spastic CP mainly affects muscle movement and development. If your child has spastic cerebral palsy, get the facts and most current information on this condition here.

Types of Spastic Cerebral Palsy

The word spastic refers to stiff and/or jerky movements. Spastic cerebral palsy, therefore, is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, stiffness, and movements. Within the category of spastic CP, a child can have many further disorder classifications. A child may have mild, moderate, or severe spastic CP depending on how much the condition impacts his or her motor functions. A child with mild spastic CP may be able to walk without assistance, for example, while one with severe spastic CP would need a wheelchair to get around.

The degree of your child’s spastic CP will depend on his or her motor skills. A physician will typically use the universal motor skill scale – the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) – to rate your child’s level of developmental difficulties. A low degree on the scale means minor impact to motor function, while a higher level is a more severe disability. Knowing where your child falls on the scale and with other classifications can help direct treatment options.

What Causes Spastic CP?

Damage to the motor cortex of the brain during development (before or after birth) can cause spastic CP. The motor cortex is part of the system in the brain that initiates voluntary muscle movements. Traumatic or acquired brain injuries that affect the motor cortex can lead to spastic CP in an infant. Some causes of spastic CP, such as genetic defects, may be unavoidable. However, others are preventable with proper medical care during the birth process. Adequate medical care during birth complications can help prevent all types of cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Muscle stiffness and tight or contracted muscles are the most common symptoms of spastic CP. Due to muscular deficits, movements in people with spastic CP may appear awkward when they move or walk. You may notice the following signs and symptoms if your child has spastic cerebral palsy:

  • Involuntary muscle contractions
  • Exaggerated reflexes
  • Muscle tremors or jerky movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inability to open a closed fist or unbend a flexed wrist
  • Developmental delays
  • Legs lifting upward when lying down
  • Problems with vision or hearing
  • Difficulty feeding, swallowing, and/or talking

Different parts of the body may show signs of spastic CP depending on the type of condition. Spastic diplegia affects mostly the legs, while spastic quadriplegia affects the whole body (including the face, neck, and trunk). Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of cerebral palsy, and often comes with associative disabilities such as seizures or intellectual problems.

Diagnosis of Spastic Cerebral Palsy

A physician may diagnose spastic CP based on symptoms such as developmental delays as an infant gets older. Severe cases may result in faster diagnoses shortly after birth; however, milder cases can take months or a few years to properly diagnose. Monitoring a child, keeping an eye out for common indicators, and taking your child to the doctor regularly in the first few years can help diagnose spastic CP.

Treatments for Spastic CP

Although spastic cerebral palsy has no known cure, several treatment options can help reduce symptoms, prevent associated health complications, improve quality of life, and extend a patient’s lifespan. Treatments such as rehabilitative and occupational therapies from an early age can maximize recovery potential.

Common treatments for spastic CP include medications to control pain and symptoms, therapy to increase muscle control and motor skills, and surgeries to loosen muscle contractions in severe cases. Most physicians create comprehensive treatment plans to address all the symptoms and conditions related to spastic CP. With proper medical care and plenty of love and support, children with spastic CP can live full, long, and happy lives.