Neurological Condition Affecting Movement and Muscle Coordination

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition that appears in infancy or early childhood. It permanently affects the child’s body movements and muscle coordination. It is non-progressive, meaning it does not get worse over time, but it cannot be reversed. Cerebral palsy can involve brain and nervous system functions, impacting movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking.

At Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, we are committed to helping our cerebral palsy patients lead fulfilling lives with the appropriate medical care, surgical management and specialized therapies. Our Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist also known as pediatric physiatrist manage patients in the outpatient clinic setting both at Penn State Health Pediatric Bone and Joint Institute and Penn State Health Rehabilitation Hospital

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

There are several different types of cerebral palsy: spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, hypotonic and mixed. Many patients have a combination of symptoms – no two patients are the same. In general, cerebral palsy symptoms:

  • May be very mild or very severe
  • Only involve one side of the body or both sides
  • Be more pronounced in either the arms or legs, or involve both the arms and the legs

Definition a provider may use to describe abnormal muscle or muscle movements tone:

  • Spasticity - increased muscle tone
  • Hypotonia - decreased muscle tone
  • Dystonia - involuntary muscle contractions/movements
  • Myoclonus - spontaneous rapid muscle jerking/tremors of arms or legs
  • Ataxia - uncoordinated muscle movements

Cerebral palsy symptoms are usually seen before a child turns three years old. Sometimes the symptoms begin as early as three months old. Parents might notice that their child is delayed in reaching developmental stages such as sitting, rolling, crawling or walking.

If your child’s pediatrician suspects cerebral palsy, you will be referred to our specialty clinic. The first step of a cerebral palsy diagnosis is noticing abnormalities in your child’s motor skills or a delayed growth factor. This delay is typically present between the ages of two and three but can occur up to the age of five.

At the Penn State Health Children’s Cerebral Palsy clinic, our physiatrists, neurologists and orthopaedic surgeons are the first to evaluate each patient to confirm the diagnosis. Other cerebral palsy specialists are available at the clinic for both diagnosis and treatment. Our nurse care coordinator will help schedule these appointments for your child.

There is no cure for cerebral palsy; however, at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, our goal is to help our patients become as independent as possible.

Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Team-Centered Approach to Care

At Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, we offer our cerebral palsy patients and their families a team of experienced specialists in one convenient location. Our team approach ensures that your child receives every possible treatment to maximize his or her quality of life. Our team includes experts in the following areas:

  • Rehabilitation physician
  • Neurologist
  • Orthopedist
  • Complex care, primary care doctor
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Pulmonologist
  • Nurse coordinators
  • Nurses
  • Dentist (every six months)
  • Occupational therapists
  • Social worker

Our team of specialists – many of whom have been treating children with cerebral palsy for more than 20 years – have more experience treating cerebral palsy than many other hospitals in the central Pennsylvania area.

Ongoing Comprehensive Care

At Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, our goal is to treat the patient’s symptoms and prevent complications. Our team works closely with your child, family and all additional team members to ensure the maximum functionality and mobility for each child. As children grow, it’s important that they are as independent as possible when it comes to sitting upright, walking, balancing, using their hands, feeding and caring for themselves. We also are committed to limiting pain and discomfort whenever possible.

Customized Treatment Plans

Once a diagnosis of cerebral palsy is confirmed, our team will tailor a treatment plan specific to your child. We are focused on addressing symptoms in early childhood – before development peaks – to have the most significant impact on your child’s muscle control, functionality and independence. As your child grows, we adjust their treatment plan to grow with them, reassessing your child’s needs every six to 12 months.

Treatment plans may include:

  • Braces and other orthotic devices
  • Communication aids like computers with attached voice synthesizers
  • Medical intervention, i.e. treatment of spasticity, tone, movement, bowel program, oral secretions
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Surgical intervention
  • Wheelchairs and rolling walkers

Latest Spasticity Treatment Options

  • Oral/enteral medications
  • Chemodenervation - Botulinum toxin injections, Phenol Injections
  • Baclofen pump Management

Latest Orthopaedic Treatment Options

At Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, our orthopaedic surgeons offer all the latest surgical treatments, including:

  • Foot surgery to align the feet
  • Hand surgeries, including tendon transfer
  • Hip surgery to realign the hip joints if they dislocate
  • Rotational surgeries to help straighten limbs
  • Spine surgery if scoliosis develops
  • Tendon lengthening procedures for the hamstrings or calf muscles

We also offer in-house orthotics experts and a wheelchair clinic for our cerebral palsy patients.

Innovative Medical Management 

Our neurosurgeons and rehabilitation specialists work together on the implantation and management of baclofen pumps in our pediatric cerebral palsy patients. These pumps continuously deliver baclofen medication into the fluid surrounding your child’s spine, helping reduce spasticity and muscle tightness throughout your child’s body.

Support Groups

Support groups provide children and their families an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

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