Spastic cerebral palsy is one of the three main ‘types’ or ‘categories’ of cerebral palsy (the other two being Ataxic Cerebral Palsy and Athetoid Cerebral Palsy). Extreme muscle stiffness or tightness is associated with spastic cerebral palsy. It is not an illness. It is a neurological condition which typically appears in infancy or early childhood, resulting from irregular development or damage to the motor cortex of the brain. It is the most common type of cerebral palsy, making up c.70% of cases.
What can cause it?
As with other types of cerebral palsy, it is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth. It is most often caused by a problem that affects the development of a baby's brain whilst developing in the womb.
The main causes include:
- The brain temporarily not getting enough oxygen during a difficult birth
- A bleed within the baby's brain
- Abnormal brain development
- A premature or difficult birth process
- The mother catching an infection whilst pregnant
- Changes in genes which affect the development of the brain
What are its effects?
Of course, the effects will depend on the severity of the condition. Generally, spastic cerebral palsy affects muscle stiffness or weakness. Spasticity is a type of hypertonia and means, in a nutshell, that the muscle tone is tight and stiff. Consequently this can reduce a person’s range of movement which can make movement difficult or impossible. A person’s limbs may not fully extend. At its most severe, a person can have literally no control over their limbs.
It can affect many different areas of the body but it mostly affects all four limbs.
Crossed knees are also a slightly less known effect. Often specialised fitted cushions are used to separate the knees in order to keep the legs separated whilst the person is in their, for example, wheelchair or bed. This is to prevent the risk of the knees clashing together.
Muscle weakness and spasticity cause abnormal rotational deformities in the lower limbs. This leads to walking abnormalities as efficient walking relies upon the appropriate alignment of the lower limbs.
Spasticity can be very painful with muscles sometimes going into spasm owing to the fact that the person’s muscle tone is so tight. This in turn can lead to trouble sleeping.
It is an impairment which will affect every aspect of daily living for the rest of the person’s life.
What treatments are there?
There is no known cure. However, the following are suggested treatments:
- SDR Surgery
Jack Fox is a trainee solicitor, assisting lawyer Chris Gresswell-Green with cerebral palsy cases at Bridge McFarland LLP. Jack is also a carer for his brother who has spastic cerebral palsy.