There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are many available treatments that can maximize a child's independence and quality of life. Because cerebral palsy is a range of disorders with widely variable symptoms, the necessary treatments will vary depending on the individual child's needs. Some of the most common treatments are:
Physical therapy (PT) for children with cerebral palsy focuses on building strength, flexibility, balance and mobility. During the first two years of life, physical and occupational therapists can help with issues such as head and trunk control, rolling and grasping. Physical therapists are also involved in assessments for medical devices such as wheelchairs, braces and walkers.
In coordination with physical therapy, occupational therapy focuses on helping children with CP learn to independently participate in daily activities at home, at school and in the community. Occupational therapy includes developing alternative strategies that work around your child's special needs, as well as adaptive equipment like walkers and seating systems.
Speech and language therapy
Many children with cerebral palsy have difficulty speaking or develop communication disorders. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help improve a child's ability to speak clearly, use sign language, or use an adaptive communication device, depending on the degree of disability. Speech and language therapy can also help to address difficulties with eating and swallowing.
Some of the most commonly used medications for cerebral palsy are muscle relaxants such as diazepam (Valium), dantrolene (Dantrium) and baclofen (Gablofen), which help to relax stiff, contracted muscles. If spasms are limited to one muscle group, injections of localized medications, such as onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) may be prescribed. Depending on the specific symptoms, medications may be needed to help manage pain. Some children with CP develop epilepsy (seizures), which can also be controlled with medication.
Many children with cerebral palsy are unable to walk unassisted, and medical devices can substantially increase their mobility and independence. Commonly used assistive devices include wheeled walkers, canes and wheelchairs, depending on the extent of disability. In addition, children who have difficulty speaking may be able to use adaptive communication devices, such as voice synthesizers.
When severe contractures or deformities occur, orthopedic surgery may be needed to put arms, hips and legs into their correct positions. Other surgical corrections can address muscle and tendon issues, making it easier for the child to move.
While the underlying causes of cerebral palsy do not get better or worse over time, symptoms can change throughout childhood and even into adulthood. Ongoing assessment is a critical part of cerebral palsy treatment and management. New interventions may be needed and old ones may become unnecessary as your child grows.
Depending on the severity, the long-term cost of treatment and therapy for cerebral palsy can be substantial. That's why it's critical to create a life care plan that accounts for all of these future costs. When cerebral palsy is the result of malpractice, families have access to legal recourse in order to help pay for the cost of treatment.