Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy. It typically involves stiff and tight muscles and joints, which can cause problems with mobility and fine motor skills. Children suffering from spastic cerebral palsy may experience stiffness mostly in their legs (diplegia), one side of the body (hemiplegia), or their limbs, torso, and face (quadriplegia). The brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy also may cause separate conditions, such as epilepsy.
This condition results from damage to the motor cortex or pyramidal tracts in the brain. The motor cortex regulates movement by sending signals to other parts of the brain. Thus, a child may struggle to control their movements if their motor cortex is damaged. Meanwhile, the pyramidal tracts transmit signals from the motor cortex to the spinal cord. A breakdown in this area can disrupt sensory functions.
In most cases, a doctor cannot diagnose spastic cerebral palsy as soon as a child is born. A diagnosis may not occur for years after birth. Parents and doctors should keep track of any developmental milestones related to movement that a child does not reach. Signs and symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy vary greatly, but children often exhibit:
Muscle stiffness and tension
Problems with joints and reflexes
Jerky or exaggerated movements
Difficulty walking, walking on tiptoes, or unusual gait
Contractures, which are when a deformity results from tightened or shortened muscles, joints, or tendons
A child may suffer from additional conditions related to the brain damage that caused the cerebral palsy. These may cause separate symptoms and require separate treatment.
Treatment for Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Children suffering from spastic cerebral palsy often find that therapy allows them to lead relatively fulfilling lives. One common type of therapy is physical therapy, which involves exercises that improve flexibility, often by stretching out muscles to reduce tension. This can increase range of motion and enhance movement. In addition to physical therapy, a child may benefit from occupational therapy. This focuses primarily on improving the ability to handle everyday tasks independently, including self-care, schoolwork, and potentially job duties. Occupational therapy exercises may boost coordination and strength, while helping a child control the movements of certain muscle groups.
If a child struggles with speaking, swallowing, or breathing, a doctor may arrange for speech therapy. This can help a child strengthen their oral muscles and convey their thoughts more effectively. A child may be able to function more confidently in public and develop stronger relationships with other people.
In other situations, a doctor may prescribe medications for spastic cerebral palsy. These medications are generally designed to relax muscles and reduce stiffness. (Sometimes a child may need medications for secondary conditions caused by the brain damage as well.) A doctor may recommend surgery in some cases, such as when a child suffers from joint dislocations, shortened muscles, or problems with sensory perception that disrupt their movement. Some children may use assistive devices to complement therapy, medications, or surgeries.
Compensation for Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Parents of a child who suffers from spastic cerebral palsy may incur substantial costs. Most forms of treatment for this condition are expensive, and a child may need them indefinitely, since there is no cure. Many cerebral palsy cases arise from brain damage that could have been prevented if a health care provider had used the proper care. Errors during pregnancy or labor and delivery can support medical malpractice lawsuits. These can allow a family to recover the compensation that they need to deal with the consequences of cerebral palsy.
To preserve their right to compensation, parents usually must file the claim within a time period provided by law. This is known as the statute of limitations, which varies by state. Unless an exception applies, a claim will be dismissed if it does not fall within the statute of limitations, even if it is substantively strong. Thus, parents should contact a birth injury attorney as soon as they suspect that medical malpractice may have played a role in causing their child’s spastic cerebral palsy. These cases usually hinge on expert testimony, which may be presented by a doctor who is familiar with the defendant’s specialty. An attorney can retain a credible expert and navigate a case through procedural nuances more smoothly than most ordinary people can.