Cerebral Palsy - What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder characterized by damage to the areas of the brain that regulate movement and posture. It results from damage to the brain before, during, or soon after birth. Poor oxygen supply to the brain, trauma, severe dehydration, and maternal infections such as rubella are among the factors that may result in cerebral palsy, but often the precise cause of the damage cannot be identified.

"Cerebral" refers to the brain. "Palsy" refers to any disorder that impairs control of  body movement. Cerebral palsy appears in infancy or early childhood and permanently affects body movement and the ability to maintain posture and balance.  In people with cerebral palsy, the part of the brain that controls the muscles is damaged. Because of this, the muscles may not move in coordination with each other. The amount of brain damage varies from person to person.  The severity depends on how much of the brain is damaged and also depends on the location of the damage.

Because cerebral palsy influences the way children develop, it is known as a developmental disability. According to the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) Foundation, in the United States today more people have cerebral palsy than any other developmental disability, including Down syndrome, epilepsy, and autism. About two children out of every thousand born in this country have some type of cerebral palsy.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year about 10,000 babies born in the United States will develop cerebral palsy.

The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age.  The brain injury does not damage the child’s muscles or the nerves connecting them to the spinal cord – only the brain’s ability to control the muscles.  Depending on its location and severity, the brain injury that causes a child’s movement disorders may also cause other problems. These problems include mental retardation, seizures, language disorders, learning disabilities, and vision and hearing problems.

Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition - damage to the brain is a one-time event so it will not get worse - and people with cerebral palsy may have a normal life-span. The effects of cerebral palsy vary widely from individual to individual. The most common effects of cerebral palsy are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy. 

At its mildest, cerebral palsy may result in a slight awkwardness of movement or hand control. At its most severe, cerebral palsy may result in virtually no muscle control, profoundly affecting movement and speech. Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disability.  In most cases, the movement and other problems associated with cerebral palsy affect what a child is able to learn and do to varying degrees throughout life.

Only a careful review of the medical records can support a likely cause of injuries and whether the actions of the delivery team played a part in causing your child's cerebral palsy. Our lawyers and medical advisors who handle birth injury cases have experience investigating medical mistakes and birth injury malpractice and have access to the type of qualified medical experts necessary to review complicated birth injury cases.

If your child suffered a birth injury resulting in cerebral palsy due to improper care during your pregnancy or at the time of delivery, perhaps we can help. Contact one of our medical advisors - all are professionally licensed - they will understand the complex issues of labor and delivery that can result in medical conditions like cerebral palsy. Please call our Medical Malpractice group which handles birth injuries that result in cerebral palsy at 1.800.552.7115 or contact us. If you think you have a medical malpractice case within MN, ND, SD, IA or WI, please call 1.800.207.6771.


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Miller, Freeman, M.D., Bachrach, Steven, M.D., Cerebral Palsy: A Complete Guide for Caregiving, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 2005

Pincus, Dion, Everything You Need to Know About Cerebral Palsy, Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. New York, 2000. 

Pellegrino, Louis. Cerebral Palsy, in Batshaw, M.L. (ed.), Children With Disabilities, Fourth Edition, Baltimore, MD, Paul H. Brooks Publishing Company, 1997, pages 499-528.

Stanley, Fiona, Blair, Eve, Alberman, Eva. (2000) Cerebral Palsies: Epidemiology & Causal Pathways. Mac Keith Press

Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare

Origins of Cerebral Palsy,

United Cerebral Palsy. The Treatment of Cerebral Palsy. Research Status Report, 6/03.

United Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy–Facts and Figures. 1-30-04

Robins Kaplan LLP Lawyers Handling Cerebral Palsy and other Birth Injury Cases

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