Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term used to describe a group of chronic conditions affecting body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. It can also impact fine motor skills, gross motor skills and oral motor functioning.

CP is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring before birth, during birth, shortly after birth, or during infancy — while a child’s brain is still developing.

These disorders are not caused by problems in the muscles or nerves, but rather the faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain. Problems in these areas of the brain disrupt the brain's ability to adequately control movement and posture.


Parents are often the first to detect that their infant is not developing motor skills in a timely manner. Usually appearing before 18 months of age, parents report first noticing a development delay in their infant’s milestones, such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, smile, or walk.

Some affected children may also have unusual posture or favor one side of their body or have decreased or increased muscle tone.

  • If the infant seems too relaxed, or floppy, he or she has decreased muscle tone or hypotonia.
  • If the infant has increased muscle tone, or hypertonia, he or she will seem stiff or rigid.
  • In some cases, the baby may display both versions and, for example, have an early period of hypotonia that progresses to hypertonia after the first 2 to 3 months of life.

Parents who are concerned about their baby's development for any reason should contact their physician, who can help distinguish normal variation in development from a developmental disorder.


Doctors diagnose cerebral palsy by testing an infant's motor skills -- slow development, abnormal muscle tone, and unusual posture -- a physician also tests the infant's reflexes and looks for early development of hand preference.

An infant with hand preference will use the favored hand to reach for the object, even when it is held closer to the opposite hand. During the first 12 months of life, babies do not usually show hand preference. However, these infants develop a preference much earlier, since the hand on the unaffected side of their body is stronger and more useful.

The next step in diagnosing cerebral palsy is to rule out other disorders that can cause movement problems. Your doctor may also order either a CT scan, x-ray, or ultrasonography testing to analyze brain and muscle tissue to help ensure that the symptoms are not springing from some other issue, such as genetic diseases, muscle diseases, disorders of metabolism, or tumors in the nervous system.

The best and most successful treatment for CP, at this time, is a specific management program created for the child to help him or her achieve maximum potential in growth and development. The earlier the specific management program is begun the better.

The management team includes CP specialists in many areas—physicians, therapists, educators, nurses, social workers, and other professionals— who assist the family and child toward their goal of independence and full inclusion in our society.

People with Cerebral Palsy can go to school, have jobs, get married, raise families, and live in homes of their own by learning to manage their CP. They may need any combination of certain medications, surgery, and braces to improve nerve and muscle coordination and prevent or minimize dysfunction.

As individuals mature, they may require support services such as personal assistance services, continuing therapy, educational and vocational training, independent living services, counseling, transportation, recreation/leisure programs, and employment opportunities, all essential to the developing adult.

This information was created by the specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic. Readers are encouraged to research trustworthy organizations for information. Please talk with your physician for websites and sources that will enhance your knowledge and understanding of this issue and its treatment.

The professionals at Semmes Murphey Clinic are very experienced with Cerebral Palsy. If your child, friend or family member are having symptoms or issues, please call us.

Request an Appointment