4 Types of Treatments for Cerebral Palsy
You may be wondering what are the treatments for cerebral palsy?
More importantly, what type of treatment is right for your child?
There is not just one type of treatment method available to you but multiple options.
These options may be recommended by your health care provider to improve your child’s overall quality of life.
With that said, here are the four types of cerebral palsy treatment methods to know:
- Assistive Technology
Let’s dive in.
Cerebral Palsy Treatment — How Is It Determined?
Cerebral palsy (also known as CP) has many layers because it is brain damage that happens before or shortly after birth affecting a child’s muscle coordination and ability to move.
A child’s mobility may be impacted in the arms, legs, hands, face, and tongue.
Each case is unique, depending on where the brain damage occurs, ranging from mild to severe cases.
Depending on the type of cerebral palsy and the severity of the condition is what pediatricians and specialists look at to determine a child’s treatment plan.
Even though cerebral palsy is permanent damage, the condition will not worsen over time. The good news is it may improve through the common treatment methods we are about to cover.
First, let’s familiarize you with one of the most common treatments for cerebral palsy, therapy.
The overall goal of therapy is to improve motor skill development depending on a child’s needs.
For instance, a child may gain confidence and independence in sitting up, rolling over, walking, talking, and eating.
Here are five cerebral palsy therapy treatments to know.
Traditional Physical Therapy
Traditional Physical Therapy (no matter what setting) focuses on treatment for impairment or injury by restoring function and movement using a variety of methods such as:
- An exercise program
Ultimately, the goal of physical therapy is to make everyday movements easier.
Intensive Physical Therapy
So you may be wondering what is the difference between traditional physical therapy and intensive physical therapy?
That’s a great question and here is the answer.
Intensive Physical Therapy focuses on treatment for specific impairments like traditional physical therapy, however, it is used mostly in the neurological population to help children with neurological conditions like cerebral palsy.
Intensive PT focuses on:
- Practicing functional movement for improved mobility and independence
►► If your child needs help or assistance while standing, click here to learn about this therapist recommended leg wrap ◄◄
It is the repetition of functional tasks using a specific length of treatment times and specialized equipment like the Universal Exercise Unit and the TheraSuit which makes it intensive.
If you need to find an intensive clinic near you, click here.
Occupational Therapy is crucial to a child learning everyday activities like how to brush their teeth, get dressed, and go to school.
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech and Language Therapy helps a child communicate by learning how to talk, 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.
These activities may include swimming, horseback riding, playing sports, art programs, and cultural activities.
Along with other treatments methods or if other options fail, medications may 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
- Muscle pain
Certain drugs are used to target certain conditions and may be prescribed to take by mouth or by injection into the muscles.
Here are five common drugs you will see and hear about.
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 is given orally or by injection into the muscle.
Anti-Seizure medications also known 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 decreases.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) reports 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 (1).
Pain control drugs such as steroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to reduce inflammation.
Alternative or Natural Medicines
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 may help reduce uncontrollable body movements in the limb and face, as well as improve muscle spasms, excessive drooling, and tremors (2).
This type of medication helps those with Spastic Cerebral Palsy, the most common type of cerebral palsy diagnosed in children.
Surgery is one of the many treatment options used to help children with cerebral palsy improve:
Many doctors initially recommend physical therapy and medications before resorting to surgery as an option.
When surgery does become the recommended method of treatment, the benefits usually outweigh the risks.
For instance, certain procedures aim to prevent future complications while addressing the following conditions:
- Joint issues
- Spinal deformities
- Foot deformities
- Hearing problems
- Muscle spasms
- Hip dislocation
- Gastric distress
When performed, surgery helps correct or progress movement and alignment in the legs, arms, hips, hands, wrists, and feet (3). These operations are performed on the muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones.
The goal of surgery is to give the patient the opportunity to live as independently as possible while improving their overall health and wellness.
Assistive technology such as adaptive devices enhances the living environment for a child with cerebral palsy to make life easier to learn, work, and communicate.
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 incorporate assisted technology into their therapy sessions because it helps a child to communicate more easily.
There are many benefits to using an assistive device to help you:
- Express emotions
- Improve academic performance
- Gain independence
- Gain confidence
- Engage in social interaction
- Perform recreational activities
The common types of assistive devices you may see and hear about include:
Electronic Communication Board
Similar to a tablet, an electronic communication board allows a child to communicate by pressing numbers, words, letters, or pictures.
It is a dedicated device from a medical professional or a mainstream tablet in which special apps and other programs are downloaded to assist with communication.
A speech-generating device is an advanced type of communication board that generates speech.
The child puts their words, pictures, or symbols into the device which is then converted into speech for others to understand.
An eye-tracking device is helpful for children who are unable to physically use their arms, wrists, hands, and fingers to tap on a communication device.
Through eye movements, a child selects pictures and words to communicate with others.
Low-Tech Communication Board
A low-tech communication board is a sheet of paper that allows a child to communicate by pointing to pictures or words.
A writing utensil may also be used if the child is able to grasp easily to write on paper.
The low-tech option is great for young children who are not ready to handle the complexity of an electronic communication board.
Overall, the assistive technology available today may be crucial to a child’s success to live a more confidant and independent lifestyle while growing into adulthood.
Recommended Guided Resources
If you need to learn more about cerebral palsy and the treatment options available to you, here are several guided resources we recommend.
►► View Now ◄◄
An evidence-based guide for families who have a child with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy.
►► View Now ◄◄
One of the best books to deal with the specific treatment of gait problems. This is a great resource if you work with or have a child with a gait disorder.
►► View Now ◄◄
If you need a simple resource that provides a thorough overview of cerebral palsy and its treatment, this is a helpful reference to have on hand.
About the Author
Lindsey is the co-founder of The LENN Foundation and content developer of the ‘Intensive Therapy for Kids’ blog.
When she isn’t busy playing Godzilla with her 7-year-old or chasing around her 2-year-old mischievous Rottie pup who has a serious obsession with Roku remote controls (he’s happily chewed at least 10 in his lifetime lol), she is grateful to live out her passion for helping children with cerebral palsy (like her sweet nephew Lenny) to receive the therapies they need to live their best life possible. ♥
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2020). The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research.
- Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) Help Center (2017). Medications for Cerebral Palsy.
- Kristin Proctor, RN (2022). Cerebral Palsy Guide. Surgery for Cerebral Palsy.
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