Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Quick Answer

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is a debilitating physical disorder caused by damage to the brain. Children with the condition have trouble controlling their muscles and experience unexpected and even painful body movements. Fortunately, treatment can help people cope with the symptoms and enjoy long, happy lives.

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Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Explained

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is one form of cerebral palsy, a common childhood physical disability. This type of cerebral palsy results from damage to a specific area of the brain involved in movement. As a result, people with the disability have challenges moving their muscles and experience abrupt, repetitive and twisting movements.

The dyskinetic form of cerebral palsy is found in 20% of all people with cerebral palsy. It is broken down into two types—choreoathetoid and dystonic—which are grouped by the different kinds of involuntary movements that people experience.

Although there is no cure for dyskinetic cerebral palsy, treatment plans can help children manage their symptoms and gain some independence.

Treatment typically involves:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Mobility assistant equipment

With the help of promising new research, dyskinetic cerebral palsy patients may be able to find relief and enjoy a greater quality of life.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Types

Different types of cerebral palsy result in specific movement-related disorders. It’s also possible to experience mixed cerebral palsy (for example, a blend of dyskinetic and spastic cerebral palsy symptoms). This mix results in a range of movement difficulties that vary widely from person to person.

People with dyskinetic cerebral palsy will often experience a blend of symptoms from both choreoathetoid and dystonic dyskinetic cerebral palsy.

Choreoathetoid Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Choreoathetoid dyskinetic cerebral palsy is characterized by two different types of movements: athetosis and chorea. Athetosis describes continuous, involuntary writhing movements that happen even when the patient is at rest. People with this problem experience fluctuations in muscle tone, making it difficult to hold a posture.

On the other hand, chorea movements are brief and irregular. These can vary from mild fidgeting to wild thrashing.

Dystonic Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Dystonic dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes muscle contractions when someone tries to move. This leads to awkward postures, repetitive movements or slow twisting. Sometimes, the symptoms are confined to one single body part and only occur during certain movements. Alternatively, it can affect the entire body, including the vocal and throat muscles.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms and Effects

Children are often diagnosed with dyskinetic cerebral palsy before they reach the age of 2. The most common early warning signs are delays in certain developmental milestones, like sitting up, crawling and walking. Babies may have restricted movement, speech problems, difficulties with eating and trouble holding themselves up with their arms.

Most symptoms will not be visible until the child starts to develop. As the condition progresses, kids with dyskinetic cerebral palsy can experience a variety of involuntary movements. These are broken down into dystonia, athetosis and chorea.


Dystonia describes regular, slow movements and sustained postures. These are triggered by attempts at movement and can be very painful. Focal dystonia is only present in one part of the body while generalized dystonia affects many areas. Dystonic movement is often more severe and debilitating than the others.


Athetosis movements are also slow and continuous, but they can occur even when someone is resting. People with athetosis struggle with maintaining posture or getting their muscles to behave the way they want. This can make it difficult to sit, stand or hold onto objects.


Chorea is characterized by jerky and abrupt movements that can range in severity. This can look a lot like fidgeting or clumsiness in its mild form. Although the movements do not occur during sleep, they can be worsened by anxiety or emotional stress.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Causes

Dyskinetic cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the basal ganglia, an area of the brain responsible for automatic movement, fine voluntary movements and posture. The particular type of dyskinetic cerebral palsy experienced depends on the specific structures in the basal ganglia that are damaged.

Damage to basal ganglia can occur when a child’s oxygen supply is severely restricted during pregnancy, childbirth or soon afterward. For example, a stroke in the womb or medical problems with the mother during pregnancy can starve the baby’s brain of oxygen and cause permanent damage. Untreated jaundice can lead to damage in the basal ganglia as well.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy Treatment and Therapy

Treatment plans for dyskinetic cerebral palsy will vary slightly depending on the type that your child has. It gets more complicated if your child has a mix of cerebral palsy types, like spasticity and dyskinesia. A health care team can help you come up with a treatment plan for managing your child’s symptoms.

Common treatments for dyskinetic cerebral palsy include:

  • Medications to help control pain and muscle spasms
  • Mobility assistance in the form of a walker or wheelchair
  • Braces for controlling spastic movements and improving posture

Physical therapy also plays an important role in treatment and can be incorporated into your child’s daily routine as they get older. A therapist will evaluate your child to determine the best way to strengthen their muscle tone and help with walking. This can improve your child’s motor skills and give them greater independence.

Current research suggests that deep brain stimulation may be an effective way to treat dyskinetic cerebral palsy. This treatment blocks abnormal activity in the brain using electrical pulses and may be particularly helpful for people with dystonia.

Legal Help for Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy

Your child’s dyskinetic cerebral palsy may be the result of birth injury. In many cases, medical malpractice has resulted in oxygen deprivation either before or during birth. This can cause severe brain damage and dyskinetic cerebral palsy.

When a birth injury occurs as a result of a professional mistake, financial compensation may be available. This can help pay for your child’s treatment, including special equipment, medicine, physical therapy and any additional related costs.

If you’re considering legal action, be sure to work with an attorney experienced in cerebral palsy cases. Contact the Birth Injury Justice Center today at 800-914-1562 to have your medical case reviewed for free.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
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