Surgery for people who have cerebral palsy (CP) may help reduce muscle stiffness or spasms and allow more flexibility and control of the affected limbs and joints.
The main surgery choices are:
- Orthopedic surgery (for muscles, tendons, and joints). It's done to increase range of motion. For example, the surgeon may lengthen a tendon, cut through muscles or tendons, or attach a tendon to a different part of the bone.2 Surgery to treat spinal curves (scoliosis) or to prevent or treat hip dislocation is also done.
- Selective dorsal rhizotomy (cutting nerves of affected limbs) for contracture or other mobility problems. This procedure is usually considered only for children who have severe muscle tightness in the legs.
Other surgeries related to cerebral palsy
- Surgery for various orthopedic problems. Surgery for other problems is sometimes needed for children with CP. These surgeries vary depending on the specific problems involved. For example, some children may need surgery to correct uneven leg length.
- Medicine-related surgery. A small pump is surgically implanted under the skin in the belly for some people who have CP. This pump can deliver medicines, such as baclofen, directly into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord.
When surgery may be used
A thorough checkup is needed to help the doctor find out which muscles and nerves are affected and what type of surgery would best treat the condition. A gait analysis may be part of the exam.
Doctors don't agree about the best age for children to have surgery for cerebral palsy. Some may suggest surgery at a young age, while others may suggest other treatments before surgery. Use this surgery information form(What is a PDF document?) to help you decide what's right for your child.
Surgery isn't used nearly as often for the arms as for the legs. Surgery on arm deformities carries more risks related to sensory damage.
Sometimes medicine or physical therapy is used to postpone or prevent the need for surgery.
Physical therapy after surgery
The type of therapy and special equipment needed after surgery (such as braces, casts, and splints) depends on the child's specific needs. Most children need physical therapy after surgery. In general, post-surgical physical therapy usually starts as soon as possible and may continue for as long as 6 months.