Even though CP can't be cured, a variety of treatments can help people who have CP to make the most of their abilities and physical strength, prevent complications, and improve their quality of life.
Specific treatment varies by individual and changes as needed if new issues develop. In general, treatment focuses on ways to maintain or improve a person's quality of life and overall health.
Regular visits with your child's doctor and specialists are important for monitoring your child's condition.
Treatment for CP includes:
- Physical therapy, which can help your child become as mobile as possible.
- Medicines, which can help control some of the symptoms of CP and prevent complications. For more information, see Medications.
- Certain kinds of surgery, which may sometimes be used for a child with severe problems. For more information, see Surgery.
- Devices and equipment, such as braces, casts, and splints.
- Pain management. For more information, see the topics Pain Management and Chronic Pain.
Physical therapy and special equipment may be used together, such as for constraint-induced movement therapy, also called shaping. This encourages a child to increase movements by presenting interesting activities or objects and giving praise and rewards when a child attempts to use the less-functioning muscles.
Ongoing treatment for cerebral palsy (CP) focuses on continuing and adjusting existing treatments and adding new treatments as needed.
Working with others involved with your child's care, understanding your child's needs and rights, and taking care of yourself and other family members are all important parts of treatment. For more information, see Home Treatment.
Physical therapy is an important treatment that begins soon after a child is diagnosed. It often continues throughout the child's life. It may begin before a definite diagnosis is made, depending on the child's symptoms.
Physical therapy may help prevent the need for surgery. But its focus may change after surgery or for problems that are new or getting worse. After surgery, specialized physical therapy may be needed for 6 months or longer.
Devices and equipment
Many people who have CP benefit from using something to maintain or improve joint mobility, help strengthen muscles and relax overactive (spastic) muscles, and assist with daily activities. These devices and equipment may include special crutches, orthotics, casts, standers, special seats, walkers, wheelchairs, special shoes, and other methods to help with specific problems.
The specific types of devices used depend on a child's needs. For example, a child may get a cast after surgery or to restrict movement in one area to strengthen muscles and tendons in another part of the body. If both legs are affected by CP, a child can learn to move around with the help of a scooter board (a device used to self-propel while lying down), a modified stroller, a wheelchair, or other special equipment.
Other therapies may also be needed, depending on specific needs.
- Occupational therapy helps teens and adults adapt to their limitations and live as independently as possible.
- Speech therapy helps control the mouth muscles. This therapy can be of great help to children with speech or eating problems. Speech therapy often starts before the child begins school and continues throughout the school years.
- A registered dietitian can provide nutritional counseling when a child has problems eating or is not gaining weight.
- Both massage therapy and hatha yoga are designed to help relax tense muscles, strengthen muscles, and keep joints flexible. Hatha yoga breathing exercises are sometimes used to try to prevent lung infections. More research is needed to find out the health benefits of these therapies for people who have CP.
- Therapies to stimulate learning and sensory development may benefit babies and young children. Some also help people of other ages. These therapies cannot repair damaged parts of the brain. But they may be able to stimulate undamaged parts of the brain.
- Behavioral therapy may help some school-age children with CP learn better ways to communicate with others.
- Biofeedback may be useful as part of physical therapy or on its own. Although it doesn't help everyone with CP, some people who use the technique learn how to control their affected muscles or reduce muscle tension.
You may hear about a wide range of controversial treatments, some of which may cause harm. Several controversial treatments exist for CP, such as electrical stimulation and special diets. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any type of treatment you are considering for your child.
Preparing for independent living
Many adults with CP get jobs if they have good support from their family and community. You can enroll your teen in occupational therapy as part of a gradual preparation for independent living. Your child may need extra help and encouragement to prepare for added expectations and responsibilities.