Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy (also referred to as Diplegic Cerebral Palsy) is one of the most common types of CP diagnosed in children.
There are four main types of cerebral palsy to know which we will cover in a minute.
Spastic being the most common type you will see and hear about affects nearly 80% of the kids diagnosed.
With that said, you may be wondering all sorts of things like…
- What does Spastic Diplegia mean?
- What are the signs and symptoms to look for?
- What types of treatment are available?
- How is it caused?
- Can it be cured?
Do any of these questions come to mind?
If you answered yes, then you’re at the right place.
This post breaks down what you need to know and hopefully answers any of those lingering questions that come to mind.
Let’s dive in!
What is Spastic Diplegia?
When you hear the term Spastic Diplegia think of one body part, the legs.
That’s exactly what Spastic Diplegia is a condition affecting the spasticity of the legs.
Those who have spastic cerebral palsy experience lower extremity challenges.
You will commonly see a child move with a ‘scissor walk’ where their knees turn inward.
The reason this happens is there is more muscle stiffness in the hips and legs.
‘Scissor walk’ (also known as scissoring gait) is an abnormal walking pattern where the thighs and knees press together or cross over each other.
To show you what a scissor walk looks like, here is a short clip.
►► Click here for my recommended tool to help with a child’s leg posture (this is therapist-approved and commonly used during intensive physical therapy sessions) ◄◄
What Causes Spastic Diplegia?
A child diagnosed with cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage that occurs either before or right after birth.
The same goes for Spastic Diplegia or any of the other three types of cerebral palsy which you can learn more about by clicking here or by scrolling below.
The cause or ‘how it happened’ all stem from damage to the brain that took place at a specific point in time.
What risks do you need to know that may cause a child to have brain damage?
Let’s get into that next.
What are the Risk Factors?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), babies born prematurely and with low birth weight are at a heightened risk of developing cerebral palsy.
Sadly, a small percentage of cerebral palsy cases result from a medical mistake by a healthcare provider.
When this happens, medical tools are improperly used to deliver the baby causing damage to their brain (such as from forceps or vacuum extractors).
To summarize, here are the common risk factors that may cause spastic diplegia cerebral palsy:
- Babies born prematurely
- Babies born with low birth weight
- A medical mistake caused by a healthcare provider
- Multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.)
- When a baby is breech
- The mother was exposed to methyl mercury (which is very toxic and can happen from eating fish or shellfish)
- The mother and child’s blood types are not compatible
- Infections during pregnancy
- A medical condition of the mother (such as thyroid issues or seizures)
Again, these are risks to keep in mind but it does not mean this is the be-all-end-all.
Early Signs to Look For
If your child has cerebral palsy, signs normally show up in the first several months of their life so it’s important to know what to look for.
However, I want to mention that the majority of kids who become diagnosed with cerebral palsy are usually between the ages of 1 to 2 years old.
It’s not a condition that’s commonly diagnosed right away.
The reason being, the parent or caretaker starts to notice developmental delays meaning the child is not hitting certain developmental milestones.
Those milestones are pivotal moments in a parent’s life where their child is learning to roll over, crawl, stand, or walk which normally happens between the ages of 1 to 2 years.
If your child is showing one or more of the following signs from birth to age 2 it may indicate motor delay issues.
Here are early warning signs to look for:
- Unable to hold up their head while being picked up, lying down on their back, or stomach
- When held, they feel ‘floppy’ or ‘stiff’
- When held, the legs become tense or cross-like scissors
- Feeding or swallowing difficulties
- Unable to roll over or sit up on their own
- Has difficulty bringing their hands together or to their mouth
- Reaches out with one hand while their other hand is in a fist
- Cannot stand while holding onto support
- Crawls lopsided
- Walking on toes
- Coordination and balance issues
If your child is showing one or more of the following signs it is important to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician.
Before we get into diagnosis and common tests, let’s look at the four main types of cerebral palsy to know.
4 Main Types of Cerebral Palsy
When a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the doctor categorizes the condition into one of these four types.
The type of diagnosis is based upon the child’s mobility impacted as well as the number of limbs or body parts affected.
Let’s define each of these types.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Commonly referred to as Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy, is the most common type of CP diagnosed in children affecting 70-80%.
Hypertonia, meaning increased muscle tone, tends to lead to painful limbs where muscles are noticeably stiff and tight making jerky movements.
Suffering from motor cortex damage to the brain (which controls voluntary body movements), a child may have difficulty walking, kicking a ball, moving their arm, or lifting objects.
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
Also known as Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy and it is the second most common type.
Marked by abnormal movements and muscle control in the arms, legs, and hands, makes this type of CP challenging controlling body coordination and mobility.
The uncontrollable movements tend to become more severe during times of emotional stress and will usually subside when sleeping or resting.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxia is the loss of control of full body movements and is the least common type of cerebral palsy impacting around 6% of children.
It is caused by damage to the center of the brain, the cerebellum, usually prior to birth commonly from:
- A brain bleed
- High blood pressure from the mother during pregnancy
- Problems with the placenta
The cerebellum when damaged results in poor coordination and lack of balance.
A child may appear unsteady and shaky in their arms and legs because their balance and depth perception is affected.
Mixed Type Cerebral Palsy
Is the result of multiple brain injuries that are located in numerous spots of the brain and result in affecting about 10% of children.
When a child shows signs of more than one type of CP, they will usually be diagnosed as a mixed type.
The most common mixed types of CP include a combination of spastic and athetoid.
The least common variety is the combination of ataxic and athetoid.
Keep in mind that each of these four types of cerebral palsy is diagnosed with common tests which lead us to our next topic.
Diagnosis and Common Tests
As I briefly mentioned, it is very rare for a child to immediately become diagnosed with cerebral palsy right after birth, but it can happen.
Commonly, the child not meeting developmental milestones alerts the parents and doctors that there may be deeper developmental issues occurring.
Especially if the child is having leg movement difficulties (along with other early warning signs mentioned above), may point in the direction of Spastic Diplegia.
Due to this, certain tests are performed to determine if a child has cerebral palsy.
Here are five common tests doctor’s run to check for brain damage and to rule out other conditions:
- Blood Test to identify cerebral palsy or rule out other conditions (like genetic disorders)
- CAT scan (CT scan) of the head to show if there is brain injury (which is similar to an x-ray)
- MRI of the head to check in detail for any neurological irregularity
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) to look at the electrical activity in the brain
- Cranial Ultrasound to show if there is bleeding in the brain
The great news is there are numerous treatment options available to help your child live an all-out better quality of life if they are diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy.
The treatment your child needs really boils down to the signs and symptoms they are having.
- Orthotic devices such as a walker, wheelchair, or leg braces help with independent mobility
- Physical therapy to improve motor functions and movement delays
- Occupational therapy allows a child to live an independent lifestyle by assisting them with their activities of daily living (ADL) like getting dressed, putting on shoes, or brushing their teeth
- Medications such as muscle relaxers to reduce muscle stiffness
- Orthopedic Surgery for those experiencing extreme pain in their movements and muscles to receive relief
- Stem Cell Therapy is still a very new treatment but this type of therapy is linked to restoring some movement functions for cerebral palsy patients
►► Here is a FUN activity therapists use and parents rave about to enhance their child’s motor functions ◄◄
Cerebral palsy diagnosed in children ranges from mild to severe depending on where and how the brain damage occurred.
It is not a life-ending condition by any means it is actually quite the opposite!
Those with cerebral palsy have incredible abilities and are an inspiration on how to live our lives in the most positive way.
I want to leave you with a post that shares ten incredible stories about people with cerebral palsy that will tug on your heartstrings (it did mine)!
I hope this information added value to your research efforts in learning more about Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy.
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