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Treatment Options for Cerebral Palsy

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Cerebral Palsy is a complex condition with many factors. A comprehensive treatment plan is necessary to ensure a person with CP lives the best possible life. Read about the possible treatment options for cerebral palsy and natural treatments for cerebral palsy below.

Cerebral palsy is the name given to a variety of related neurological disorders that permanently affect balance, muscle coordination, and body movement. In addition to the physical side effects of cerebral palsy, a few other symptoms are also common, including hearing loss, impaired vision, seizures, and vitamin deficiencies. Most individuals with cerebral palsy do not worsen over time, and the condition is rarely fatal.

Although there is no cure for the condition, there are a variety of treatment options for cerebral palsy that have been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Learn about the treatment options for cerebral palsy below:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of any cerebral palsy case. Physical therapy helps children with CP learn to control their muscles and motor functions on their own. Physical therapy includes treatments to improve balance, posture, flexibility, mobility, and strength. Some individuals with cerebral palsy also require the use of orthotics to train muscle groups to respond differently and support the unique needs of the cerebral palsy patient's body. Orthotics usually include braces, splints, and casts.

Benefits of Physical Therapy

Since cerebral palsy is incurable, one of the best ways for children with cerebral palsy to obtain a normal life is through physical therapy. Physical therapy can improve mobility and prevent major issues from occurring in the future, like a joint dislocation. Children with CP are able to become more independent and self-reliant after physical therapy. Physical therapy varies by the kind of CP that a patient has.

Spastic

Spastic CP causes the child to move in jerky, unstable ways. Physical therapy for this kind of cerebral palsy works on improving flexibility, reducing muscle tension, and cut down on jerky movement.

Ataxic

Ataxic CP usually affects patients by upsetting their balance. Physical therapy to address balance is used in this case.

Athetoid

Athetoid cerebral palsy affects muscle tone and movement. Treatment for this form of CP includes therapy to improve muscle tone and reduce jerky movements. Many individuals with CP also suffer from other related conditions, including:

  • Scoliosis- an unusual curvature in the spine.
  • Hand and wrist deformities- Flexing of the hand and wrist that causes trouble with fine motor skills.
  • Thoracic kyphosis- Contortion of the upper spine.
  • Shortened Achilles tendon- Causes trouble with walking.
  • Lumbar lordosis- contortion of the lower spine.
  • Knee deformities- Knees that are either too straight or too bent caused by a deformity in the pelvis. 
  • Pelvic rotation and inclination- contortion of the pelvis.

Occupational Therapy

In Occupational therapy, children with cerebral palsy are trained to become better at fine motor skills. Physical therapy focuses on gross motor function, but occupational therapy focuses on fine motor function. Most individuals with cerebral palsy have trouble learning fine motor skills, due to difficulties with their movement.

Tasks, like writing or grabbing a spoon and bringing it to their mouth, are difficult. Most occupational therapists help children learn to reach, grasping, positioning, and releasing skills.

An occupational therapist will help children learn:

 

  • Writing
  • Zipping and closing
  • Buttoning
  • Opening jars and containers
  • Using scissors
  • Picking up small objects
  • Using tweezers

 

Benefits of Occupational Therapy

The goal of occupational therapy is to help individuals with CP learn necessary skills to lead independent lives. Occupational therapy refers, not to someone's actual occupation, but everyday skills a person needs to function normally. Occupational therapists will focus on optimizing upper body function and improving coordination.

Therapy techniques include:

  • Increasing independence
  • Improving the quality of life
  • Improving the ability to learn
  • Boosting self-confidence
  • Creating a workable daily routine

Speech Therapy

Many individuals with cerebral palsy also face speech difficulties. CP is a condition that affects muscles, and hundreds of muscles are used to communicate effectively and speak clearly. Speech therapy is essential for coaching individuals with CP toward improved speech patterns. Speech therapists can identify specific speech issues that can interfere with speech.

Many children with CP also face difficulties eating, which can cause trouble with speech as well in addition to nutrient deficiencies. Speech therapists work with children to not only improve speech but also improve their ability to eat.

Benefits of Speech Therapy

Children who are better communicators can make their voices heard. Individuals with CP who can speak clearly can express their needs and interact with others in a deeper way. On a more practical level, many of the muscles used in speech are essential for proper chewing and swallowing. Children and adults with CP often suffer from nutritional deficiencies as they have trouble eating normally. This can also cause these children to have an unhealthy body weight.

Medications

Individuals with CP have often been prescribed a variety of medications to help with the condition and the other conditions that often coincide with the diagnosis. Medication is usually prescribed to treat CP itself and secondary conditions (like the seizures).

Common Cerebral Palsy Medications 
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Nerve blocks
  • Botox
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Baclofen
  • Anticholinergics

Other Conditions Treated with Medications

Individuals with CP often also have additional conditions that are affected or caused by cerebral palsy. Some conditions are caused by muscle movements, while others are caused by birth injuries. Many individuals with CP also have co-occurring conditions, like acid reflux.

Common medications are prescribed to improve the following medical issues:

Acid Reflux

Individuals with poor muscle control often have trouble with acid reflux. Muscles are used to prevent stomach acid from rising up the esophagus, but with CP, poor muscle tone makes this difficult or impossible. Medications such as Zantac are often used to reduce the side effects of acid reflux.

Incontinence

Difficulty controlling urinary muscles is common in individuals with CP. Medications such as Tofranil are commonly prescribed to prevent accidents.

Behavior Disorders

Since CP is a neurological issue, sometimes individuals with cerebral palsy have behavioral or learning difficulties. Many individuals with CP also have ADHD and other neurological conditions. Commonly, children with ADHD are prescribed Adderall or Ritalin.

Is Medication Necessary for Cerebral Palsy?

Medications often come with a long list of side effects, which makes many people wary of using too many. Not all side effects of cerebral palsy will require medication, however. It is important to discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider, as each case of cerebral palsy will require a different treatment path.

Surgery

Surgery is an important treatment option for children with cerebral palsy. Most surgery is completed when the child is still young. Depending on the exact issues facing the child, surgery options can vary. However, surgery is usually done to improve mobility by improving muscle tone or lengthening short tendons.

Treatments for Comorbid Conditions for Cerebral Palsy

Many individuals with cerebral palsy also have co-morbid conditions that require their own treatments. Common co-morbid conditions include: Intellectual Disabilities Children with CP often also have intellectual disabilities because CP is often caused by a brain injury. These brain injuries can also affect intellectual development.

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 65 percent of children with cerebral palsy also suffer from an intellectual disability. A combination of medication and behavior therapy can help a child with CP maximize their optimal intelligence.

Vision or Hearing Impairment

Brain injuries can cause hearing and vision impairments. Damage to the motor cortex is usually the cause of vision problems. Treatment for these issues usually includes using hearing aids, glasses, or surgery for either condition.

Seizures

Seizures are common in children and adults with cerebral palsy. About 41 percent of individuals with CP suffer from seizures. Medication and surgery are the most common forms of treatment.

Dental Problems

Children who have acid reflux as a result of their cerebral palsy often have dental issues as well. Poor muscle control in the mouth also commonly leads to tooth decay, enamel defects, and bite problems. These issues can generally be treated with proper dental care.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Many individuals with cerebral palsy also suffer from stomach and gastrointestinal issues. Problems are also common in the esophagus and liver. Individuals who have trouble swallowing may also have nutritional deficiencies or further problems in the intestines or stomach. Medication, surgery, and supplements are often used to treat these symptoms.

Supplements that Benefit Individuals with Cerebral Palsy

Although medication is often necessary for individuals with CP, supplements are often necessary to fill in any missing nutrient gaps. Supplements can also reduce or prevent the side effects of certain medications, such as seizure medication. The following is a list of supplements that may be beneficial to individuals with cerebral palsy:

Supplements for Cerebral Palsy
  • Vitamin C
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Boron
  • Zinc
  • GABA

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential to health. People suffering from cerebral palsy have poor muscle control, and vitamin C is directly responsible for maintaining the health of ligaments, tendons, bone, and blood vessels. Vitamin C boosts collagen production which is essential for the healing process. Vitamin C can also help synthesize the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is essential to maintaining healthy brain function. Vitamin C can help reduce depression, boost energy production, and increase overall brain function. The immune system-boosting effects of vitamin C are also helpful for CP patients.

B Vitamins

B vitamins including B1 and B6 are essential to health. However, trouble eating and processing food make individuals with cerebral palsy susceptible to nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin B1 is directly responsible for improving muscle strength and preventing pain the muscles. Vitamin B6 helps keep iron levels high and is used throughout the body in nearly every process. Without enough of these vitamins, energy, metabolism, and muscle strength are lessened.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is healthy for everyone and essential for the utilization of calcium. Without vitamin D and calcium, a person's bones are weak and prone to breaking. Individuals with CP are often low in vitamin D to the point that their bone health is compromised. Supplementing with vitamin D can make up for some of the lack of vitamin D in the diet and prevent bone damage and injuries throughout life. Additionally, seizure medication is known to cause vitamin D deficiencies, which further compounds the issue if the person with cerebral palsy is also taking seizure medication.

Calcium

Calcium is essential to bone health. Calcium is found throughout the body, but most is found in the bones and teeth. Individuals with CP are often chronically low in calcium, which will increase the risk of fracture. Calcium is also responsible for controlling muscle contraction, which will make CP symptoms worse if there is not enough calcium in the body.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral. Not only are individuals with CP often low in this crucial mineral, but many otherwise healthy individuals are often low in magnesium as well. Magnesium is concentrated with 60 percent residing in the bones. It is responsible for bone health, energy production, and cell communication.

Boron

Boron is an essential trace element that is responsible for controlling how much calcium and magnesium are absorbed by the body. The USDA states that boron is essential for the healthy production of bones. Boron has also been linked with a reduction in arthritis pain, which may also be helpful for individuals with CP. Boron is also used to control activity in the brain, eye-hand coordination, and manual dexterity.

Zinc

Zinc, just like boron, is an essential trace element. Zinc boosts the immune system and is essential for the healthy growth of children. Zinc controls neurological function, immune response, and the reproductive system.

GABA

GABA acts as a neurotransmitter to communicate between nerve impulses. Individuals with low GABA levels are more likely to have depression, irritability, and anxiety.

Cerebral Palsy is a Manageable Condition

Even though cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition, there is hope for individuals with CP to live a normal life. Most of the side effects of CP can be controlled with medication, physical therapy, and diet and supplement changes. Most individuals with cerebral palsy grow up to live healthy, happy, and normal lives.

For more information about Cerebral Palsy, check out this resource from the cerebralpalsygroup.com.

Next Article: Nutrition for Cerebral Palsy