Cerebral palsy treatment is highly case specific and can vary based on the specific type of cerebral palsy that an individual has and how severe their symptoms are. Sadly cerebral palsy is not a disorder that can be effectively “cured” with medical treatment. However, effective treatment can greatly improve child’s quality of life and level of function.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is the result of neurologic damage during the very early phases of brain’s development during pregnancy or childbirth. The specific cause of the neurologic damage is most often oxygen deprivation which causes cells in the brain to decay and die.
Unlike other parts of the body where cells can regenerate and “heal,” the complex cells within the brain cannot regenerate. Once brain cells are damaged they can never regenerate or heal and doctors cannot surgically repair the damage. The injuries to the brain which cause cerebral palsy are permanent. Fortunately, cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition meaning it does not gradually get worse and worse over time. The damage to the brain is more or less fixed once it occurs and it will not spread or get worse.
What are the Treatment Options for Cerebral?
The core treatment options for cerebral palsy are: therapy (physical/occupational), medication, and surgery. Cerebral palsy cannot be cured or fixed, so the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms of the condition and maximize the child’s functionality and quality of life. Parents of a child with cerebral palsy need to become familiar with the various treatment options available for the cerebral palsy and the comparative pros and cons of each option.
Understanding what options are available and how effective they are is critical. Cerebral palsy is a highly individualized disorder so treatment plans need to be highly customized and tailored to the individual child. The specific types of combination of treatment options that a child may need will depend on several factors, including:
- Type of CP: What type of CP the child has (spastic, ataxic, dyskinetic or mixed) will have the most significant impact on the appropriate course of treatment.
- Impairment Level: the level of severity or impairment caused by a child’s CP will also dictate the course of treatment.
- Location of Impairment: CP can impact specific areas of the body (lower vs. upper) which will effect the course of treatment.
Physical Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
The cornerstone of almost all cerebral palsy treatment plans is rehabilitative physical therapy. Physical therapy is the most effective means of managing and curtailing the physical symptoms of most types of cerebral palsy. Effective physical therapy treatment for cerebral palsy attempts to minimize a child’s physical limitations through targeted muscle training techniques. These techniques seek to force train the child’s muscles to offset or limit the impact of their movement disorder.
So if a child with spastic CP has muscle stiffness that prevents them from moving their legs normally, PT will attempt to force the muscles to relax to offset or minimize the spasticity. The other benefit of physical therapy as a treatment for cerebral palsy is it is highly customizable. Even within the same subtype of cerebral palsy individual children will have highly unique needs. A physical therapist can work to identify the highly unique pattern of a child’s disorder and custom build a therapy plan to specifically target the needs of that particular child. Physical therapy programs involve a combination of the following mainstay techniques:
- Targeted muscle training exercises
- Muscle endurance routines
- Joint mobilization through stretching techniques
- Coordination and balance development drills
Physical therapy is highly beneficial. One key is starting as early as possible child’s development which is why early diagnosis of cerebral palsy is important. Research has demonstrated that starting physical therapy treatment before the child is 12 months old significantly improves long-term treatment outcomes and quality of life.
Occupational Therapy for Physical Therapy
As a supplement to physical therapy, most children with cerebral palsy receive regularly occupational therapy as part of their treatment program. Occupational therapy is like a more focused version of physical therapy. While PT works on gross motor movements and muscle rehabilitation, occupational therapy is aimed more at fine motor development.
Children with cerebral palsy get occupational therapy to help them with fine motor skills such as writing, getting dressed, using a phone or computer, and a host of other small tasks that most normal people take for granted. Developing these simple skills can make a dramatic difference in the overall quality of life and level of independence for children with cerebral palsy.
Technology and innovations will continue to help children with cerebral palsy. Some children have had good results with robot-assisted virtual rehabilitation. Botox is being used to decrease spasticity. This is new technology making a difference. Therapy with cord blood shows a great deal of promise. Things will only continue to improve and the quality of life for the same CP patient might be very different than it is not in 10 years.
Surgical Intervention for Ceberal Palsy
The underlying neurologic causes of cerebral palsy cannot be surgically corrected. However, certain physical limitations and difficulties caused by cerebral palsy can be reduced or in some cases completely alleviated with surgical intervention. These surgery options are often employed:
- Orthopedic: there are a handful of orthopedic surgery techniques that are widely utilized and highly effective at dealing with the specific symptoms of certain types of cerebral palsy. These orthopedic surgeries offer 2 potential benefits for children and adults living with CP (particularly spastic CP): pain relief and increased mobility.
- Vision: impaired vision that cannot be corrected with glasses is one of the more common co-occurring conditions associated with cerebral palsy. A handful of surgical techniques have been developed recently that have been highly successful in fixing this common problem.
Medication for Cerebral Palsy
Although treatment for cerebral palsy focuses primarily on therapy prescription medications can also play a key role in augmenting treatment goals. There is no single drug used for the universal treatment of cerebral palsy. Medications are highly specific based on the particular subtype of cerebral palsy involved as well as the individual’s unique symptoms. The various drugs currently utilized in the treatment or management of cerebral palsy can be grouped into 3 main categories:
- Anticholinergic: anticholinergic drugs can help minimize and control sudden involuntary muscle and body movements. These type of drugs are commonly given to people with dyskinetic cerebral palsy who are particularly prone to intense involuntary movements.
- Muscle Relaxants: drugs that relax muscle tone can be highly beneficial for people suffering from spastic cerebral palsy or other types of CP which involves muscle spasticity. The most frequently used drugs in this category are Valium and Baclofen.
- Anti-Seizure: seizures are the most common co-occurring condition for all types of cerebral palsy and anti-convulsive drugs such as Trileptal and widely utilized and very successful in limiting the frequency and severity of seizures.
Contact Miller & Zois About Cerebral Palsy Financial Assistance
If you have a child with cerebral palsy you are probably well aware that the treatment options described above (along with other needs) are not always covered by insurance and can be very expensive. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that is frequently the direct result of an error or bad decision that was made during labor and delivery.
If this is the case for your child you may be able to get financial assistance by bringing a medical malpractice claim against the doctors or hospital involved. You might not even have to file a lawsuit. The first step in that process is contacting Miller & Zois and talking to one of our experienced birth injury attorneys. Call our Maryland birth injury malpractice lawyers at 800-553-8082 today or get a free online consultation.