What is Cerebral Palsy?

    Cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination Cerebral palsy (CP) is caused by damage to or abnormalities inside the developing brain that disrupt the brain’s ability to control movement and maintain posture and balance. The termcerebral refers to the brain; palsy refers to the loss or impairment of motor function.

    Cerebral palsy affects the motor area of the brain’s outer layer (called the cerebral cortex), the part of the brain that directs muscle movement.

    In some cases, the cerebral motor cortex hasn’t developed normally during fetal growth. In others, the damage is a result of injury to the brain either before, during, or after birth. In either case, the damage is not repairable and the disabilities that result are permanent.

    Children with CP exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, including:


    • lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia);
    • stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity);
    • weakness in one or more arm or leg;
    • walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a ―scissored‖ gait;
    • variations in muscle tone, either too stiff or too floppy;
    • excessive drooling or difficulties swallowing or speaking;
    • shaking (tremor) or random involuntary movements;
    • delays in reaching motor skill milestones; and
    • difficulty with precise movements such as writing or buttoning a shirt.


    The symptoms of CP differ in type and severity from one person to the next, and may even change in an individual over time. Symptoms may vary greatly among individuals, depending on which parts of the brain have been injured. All people with cerebral palsy have problems with movement and posture, and some also have some level of intellectual disability, seizures, and abnormal physical sensations or perceptions, as well as other medical disorders. People with CP also may have impaired vision or hearing, and language, and speech problems.

    CP is the leading cause of childhood disabilities, but it doesn’t always cause profound disabilities. While one child with severe CP might be unable to walk and need extensive, lifelong care, another child with mild CP might be only slightly awkward and require no special assistance. The disorder isn’t progressive, meaning it doesn’t get worse over time. However, as the child gets older, certain symptoms may become more or less evident.

    A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the average prevalence of cerebral palsy is 3.3 children per 1,000 live births.

    There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many individuals improve their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.