Can cerebral palsy progress as your child gets older?
Depending on how you look at it, yes and no. While the brain damage that causes cerebral palsy will not worsen, symptoms like irregular muscle tone can.
In this article, we’ll cover the progression of cerebral palsy and the best ways to manage it.
Understanding the Progression of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. This brain damage is static and nonprogressive, meaning that it will not get worse or heal itself.
While the physical damage to the brain will not change, the resulting symptoms can get better or worse over time depending on how they’re managed.
Addressing symptoms early on can prevent further complications and optimize progress.
Some symptoms of cerebral palsy that can progress over time include:
One of the most common symptoms of cerebral palsy is spasticity, which is when the muscles involuntarily contract and movements become stiff.
Up to 80% of all individuals with cerebral palsy have spasticity.
It can range from mild to severe. Unmanaged spasticity can progressively restrict one’s mobility, and potentially lead to muscle contractures.
Uneven pulling of the muscles and excess pressure on the joints due to spasticity can affect your child’s posture, growth, and walking patterns.
Early management for spasticity is crucial to promote healthy growth, prevent chronic pain, and maximize mobility.
Management for spasticity can include:
- Physical therapy (to train proper movement patterns, stretch spastic muscles, expand range of motion, and strengthen underused muscles)
- Orthotics (braces that can be used to correct and stabilize positioning)
- Botox (a focal treatment used to block the nerve signals that cause muscle contractions)
- Baclofen (medication that helps temporarily relax spastic muscles)
- Surgery (to manually lengthen tight muscles or denervate hyperactive nerve roots)
Other than spasticity, common musculoskeletal problems in individuals with cerebral palsy include scoliosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and hip dislocation.
Irregular muscle tone can place a lot of excess strain on your musculoskeletal system.
Osteoarthritis is when cartilage (the cushioning between your bones at a joint) wears down.
Osteoporosis is when the bones become weak and porous due to lack of use or poor nutrition.
Hip dislocation can occur due to irregular muscle tone. Tightness in the muscles and joints can progressively limit one’s mobility, making it easier to accidentally dislocate a joint.
Musculoskeletal problems can be managed through:
- physical therapy
- orthotics (wearing orthotics will help support proper musculoskeletal alignment and mildly combat spasticity)
- proper nutrition (to promote growth and keep the muscles and bones strong)
Individuals with cerebral palsy are more likely to experience fatigue because their bodies must work harder to move around.
Motor impairments can be both physically and psychologically draining, which is why people with cerebral palsy are also more likely to age prematurely than the general population.
One of the best ways to manage fatigue is to continuously practice proper movement patterns. The more you move, the more you stimulate the brain’s ability to adapt (neuroplasticity).
Not only will muscles get stronger, but your brain can rewire functions affected by brain damage to healthy areas of the brain. The more you practice, the stronger neural pathways for that movement will become, resulting in more natural feeling (and less effortful) movements.
Cerebral palsy can also affect the facial muscles, making it difficult for people to speak and eat.
The best way to manage communication difficulties is through speech therapy.
There, your child will practice exercises that focus on strengthening their oral motor muscles and learn how to better articulate their speech.
Children with severe oral motor impairments may be non-verbal. This does not affect their intelligence. Many children with non-verbal cerebral palsy can perfectly understand what they are being told and know exactly what they want to say back.
At speech therapy, individuals who are non-verbal can learn how to utilize alternative forms of communication like sign language, voice generators, or communication boards.
Although cerebral palsy is a motor disability, it can also indirectly affect an individual’s mental health.
Adults with cerebral palsy are more likely to experience depression or anxiety than nondisabled adults.
Luckily, depression and anxiety are often manageable through therapy and medications. Psychotherapy will help you identify what’s causing you to feel this way and help offer ways to effectively cope.
Medications will alter the neurotransmitter levels in the brain responsible for mood and motivation.
It can also be very helpful to join a cerebral palsy support group. You’ll meet individuals who have been through what you’re going through and share experiences.
Progression of Cerebral Palsy: Key Points
The brain damage that caused cerebral palsy will not progress, but symptoms of CP can worsen and interfere with your day-to-day life.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, so it’s essential to stay on top of managing its symptoms.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand why CP can appear to worsen over time and how to prevent symptoms from progressing. Good luck!
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