The term Cerebral Palsy (CP) can have many layers because it is brain damage that happens before or after birth which affects a child’s muscle coordination and ability to move ranging from mild to severe cases.
Depending on where the brain damage occurs, mobility can be impacted in the arms, legs, hands, face, and tongue.
Even though CP is permanent damage, the condition will not worsen overtime but can be improved with therapy, medications, surgery, and assistive technology.
So what is the treatment for Cerebral Palsy?
There is not just one type of treatment available but multiple options recommended by health care providers to improve a child’s overall quality of life.
So without further ado, let’s familiarize you with the most common 4 treatment options!
Option #1. Therapy
Different types of therapy are available to improve motor skill development depending on a child’s needs. For instance, a child can gain confidence and independence in sitting up, rolling over, walking, talking, and eating.
Generally, therapy treatments can range from one or more of the following:
- Physical Therapy is one of the most important parts of treatment because it works on a child’s movement skills, muscle strength, and balance to help a child hit developmental milestones.
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- Occupational Therapy is crucial to a child learning everyday activities such as being able to brush their teeth, get dressed, and go to school.
- Speech and Language Therapy can help a child communicate by learning to speak more clearly, swallow, use sign language, or a communication device.
- Recreational Therapy includes fun and engaging activities to help improve a child’s physical and intellectual skills such as swimming, horse back riding, playing sports, art programs, and cultural activities.
Option #2. Medications
When other options fail, medications can be prescribed to improve a child’s symptoms.
There are a variety of medications used to reduce cerebral palsy symptoms to help with relaxation for stiff or overactive muscles, abnormal movement, or muscle pain. Certain drugs are used to target certain conditions.
The common drugs you will see prescribed can be taken by mouth or by injection into the muscles.
- Muscle relaxers such as baclofen, dantrolene, tizanidine, flexeril, and diazepam do just this, relax the muscle by reducing and controlling muscle spasms and stiffness. This type of medication can be given either orally or by injection into the muscle.
- Anti-Seizure medications, also referred to as anti-epileptic or anticonvulsants, can be prescribed orally for those who experience seizures to help reduce a child’s brain stimulation. It works to calm brain activity so the number or severity of seizures decrease. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) reports that there are over 20 different types of anti-epileptic medications, but the kind a child may be prescribed will depend on age, health history, and the type of seizures that need to be treated.
- Pain control drugs such as steroids or non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will be used to reduce inflammation and are basically an anti-inflammatory drug.
- Alternative or natural medicines such as herbal, homeopathic, medical marijuana, or biologically-based supplements may be an alternative medication preference for a child to take over traditional drugs.
- Anticholinergic drugs such as sinemet, robinul, benztropine mesylate, and trihexyphenidyl hydrochloride can help reduce uncontrollable body movements in the limb and face, as well as improving muscle spasms, excessive drooling, and tremors. This type of medication helps those with Spastic Cerebral Palsy which is the most common type diagnosed in children.
Option #3. Surgery
Surgery is one of the many treatment options used to help children with cerebral palsy improve their mobility, posture, and lifestyle.
Many doctors will initially recommend physical therapy and medications before resorting to surgery as an option. When surgery does become the recommended method of treatment, the benefits will usually outweigh the risks.
The goal is to give the patient the opportunity to live as independently as possible while improving their overall health and wellness.
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When performed, surgery can help correct or progress movement and alignment in the legs, arms, hips, hands, wrists, and feet. These operations are performed on the muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones.
For instance, procedures will aim to prevent future complications while addressing the following conditions:
- Joint issues
- Spinal deformities
- Foot deformities
- Hearing problems
- Muscle spasms
- Hip dislocation
- Gastric distress
Option #4. Assistive Technology
Assistive technology such as adaptive devices can enhance the living environment for a child with cerebral palsy by making life easier when it comes to learning, working, and communication.
This type of technology is crucial in helping a child succeed when growing up into adulthood to be able to live more independently.
The use of assistive devices has many benefits that allow a child to:
- Express emotions
- Improve academic performance
- Gain independence
- Gain confidence
- Engage in social interaction
- Be included in recreational activities
It is common for a child who has cerebral palsy to have communication issues such as difficulty forming words, being able to express emotions or needs, which is why this type of device is vital for a child’s mental health and wellness.
If needed, speech and language therapists will incorporate assisted technology into their therapy session because it can help a child to be able to communicate more easily.
Assistive devices may include the following:
- Electronic communication board. Similar to a tablet, the device allows a child to communicate by pressing numbers, words, letters, or pictures. The communication board can be a dedicated device from a medical professional or a mainstream tablet in which special apps and other programs can be downloaded to assist with communication.
- Speech-generating device. This is a more advanced type of communication board that actually generate ‘speech’. The child can put their words, pictures, or symbols into the device which is then converted into speech that others can understand.
- Eye-tracking device. This device is helpful for children who are unable to physically use their arms, wrists, hands and fingers to tap on a communication device. By only using eye movements, a child can select pictures and words to communicate with others.
- Low-tech communication board. This can be a sheet of paper that allows a child to be able to communicate by pointing to pictures or words a writing utensil can be used if the child is able to grasp easily to write on the paper. The low-tech option is also great for young children who may not be ready to handle the complexity of an electronic communication board.
A great resource to reference about treatments for cerebral palsy is the book ‘Treatment of Cerebral Palsy and Motor Delay’‘.
Its a very easy read that provides a thorough overview of motor delays, cerebral palsy, and its treatment.
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I hope this information added value to your research efforts in learning more about the various treatment options available for cerebral palsy.
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