Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy. It is caused by injury to the brain before, during or shortly after a baby’s birth. Spastic cerebral palsy results in stiff muscles and jerky, involuntary movements that can significantly impact a person’s life.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy Explained

Spastic cerebral palsy comprises up to 80% of people diagnosed with cerebral palsy, making it the most common form of the condition. People with spastic cerebral palsy  experience hypertonia, where muscles are chronically and tense, as well as muscle spasms when the tightened muscles occasionally release. When this happens, patients will move in a jerky manner

Spastic cerebral palsy is caused by trauma or injury to the motor cortex portion of the brain. This injury can occur in the womb before a person is born, during childbirth, or later in life. In some cases, spastic cerebral palsy is the result of preventable medical negligence during pregnancy or the birthing process.

The tenseness caused by hypertonia may impact half or the entire body. Because of this, people with spastic cerebral palsy may not be in full control of the affected limbs. Muscles affected by spastic cerebral palsy will not respond to a person’s desires due to the brain damage they have sustained.  This can understandably lead to frustration and have a big impact on a person’s physical abilities and happiness.

Unfortunately, there is no current cure for spastic cerebral palsy, but there are treatment methods that can help reduce symptoms. Medical interventions including surgery, medication, physical therapy, nutrition plans and adaptive equipment like braces are all tools that may be used to treat spastic cerebral palsy.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy Types

Spastic cerebral palsy has different subtypes determined by where the symptoms occur. Subtypes include: spastic quadriplegia, spastic diplegia or spastic hemiplegia.

Spastic Diplegia

Spastic diplegia is a subtype of spastic cerebral palsy that only impacts the lower half of the body. Infants and toddlers with spastic diplegia may have difficulty learning to walk, but most children eventually learn to walk using their toes instead of the whole feet. Spastic diplegia is also called “Little’s Disease.”

Spastic Hemiplegia

Spastic hemiplegia occurs when symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy impact only the left or right side of the body. The symptoms can vary significantly from child to child, but children with spastic hemiplegia will naturally favor the side of the body that they can control. One constantly clenched fist or limbs consistently tucked in to one side of the body are common in children with spastic hemiplegia.

Spastic Quadriplegia

Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of the condition, impacting all four limbs and the entire body. The effects of spastic quadriplegia become apparent early in life, as children will not develop as expected. Parents will notice when their child fails to meet anticipated baby milestones, such as controlling their head and crawling within one year.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy impacts a person’s balance and coordination. It is the rarest form of the condition, affecting only 1 in 10 people with cerebral palsy.

In some cases, ataxic cerebral palsy combines with spastic cerebral palsy, resulting in a mix of symptoms from both. Stiff and jerky movements will combine with a lack of balance and uncoordinated movement.

Many children with ataxic cerebral palsy will also experience “intention tremors,” in which their arms involuntarily shake as they try to reach for an object. Children with both spastic and ataxic cerebral palsy may have trouble walking and balancing, while also experiencing stiff, jerky movements and intention tremors.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

The most notable symptom of spastic cerebral palsy is movements that seem jerky and stiff.   Muscles in the body will also feel stiff to the touch. However, these aren’t the only symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy.

Compared to other subtypes of the condition, children with spastic quadriplegia are at a higher risk of limb and foot deformities, including scoliosis, as well as other medical conditions. People with spastic quadriplegia may also have trouble eating and swallowing if the condition impacts the throat muscles.

The most common symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy include:

  • Stiff muscles
  • Involuntary movements
  • Dramatic reflexes
  • Trouble walking or walking on toes
  • Issues controlling fine motor skills
  • Unable to fully stretch
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Favoring one side of the body
  • Seizures (epilepsy)

Children with spastic cerebral palsy are unlikely to have all the symptoms listed above, as each subtype has different symptoms. The severity of a child’s condition will also affect what symptoms are present.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy Causes

Spastic cerebral palsy occurs when neuron bundles in the brain or spinal cord are damaged. This damage interrupts the signals sent from the brain to the muscles in the body, making muscle movement more difficult.

The damage to bundles of neurons can be caused by:

  • Birth injuries
    • Misuse of forceps or tools
    • Ignoring fetal distress
    • A delayed C-section
  • Failure to treat illness during pregnancy
  • Exposure to toxins during pregnancy
  • Blood type incompatibility with the mother
  • Untreated jaundice
  • Direct trauma to the brain
  • Brain bleeding
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Seizures

Babies born prematurely and babies with low birthweight are at the highest risk of developing spastic cerebral palsy. However, it’s possible for any child to experience a brain injury that causes the condition.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy Treatment and Therapy

Spastic cerebral palsy is treated by using many tactics to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. It’s common for cerebral palsy to be treated with surgery, physical and occupational therapy, nutrition assistance, medication and medical aids.

Treatment options for spastic cerebral palsy include:

  • Oral medication
  • Spinal surgical implants
  • Botox injections
  • Surgery (selective dorsal rhizotomy)
  • Orthotics, casts and splints
  • Walking aids
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutritional guidance

Helping your child as early as possible is critical to a positive outcome. Early intervention is proven to significantly improve the quality of life for someone with cerebral palsy.

Legal Help for Spastic Cerebral Palsy

If your child developed spastic cerebral palsy due to a possible birth injury, get in touch with an attorney experienced in cerebral palsy cases. Financial compensation may be available to help pay for medication, surgery, therapy, treatment and any special needs costs. Contact the Birth Injury Justice Center today at 800-914-1562 to get a free medical case review.

Author:Birth Injury Justice Center
Birth Injury Justice Center

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.

Last modified: January 7, 2019

View 6 References
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  3. Seattle Children’s Hospital & Research Foundation, “Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity,” Retrieved from https://www.seattlechildrens.org/conditions/brain-nervous-system-mental-conditions/cerebral-palsy-and-spasticity/ Accessed December 9, 2018.

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