Treatments and Therapies for Cerebral Palsy
The effects of cerebral palsy (CP) vary greatly from person to person. Likewise, there is a wide array of treatments and therapies that can improve function and minimize pain in people with cerebral palsy. These range from therapies that can help optimize an individual’s abilities to surgical and medical interventions to decrease functional impairments and muscle-stress symptoms. A person with cerebral palsy will often benefit from combining multiple types of treatment and therapy into a comprehensive healthcare plan.
Medications for Cerebral Palsy
There are many different types of medications that can be used to treat the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Some of the most common types of drugs taken by people with CP include:
- Anticholinergic medications: These drugs can inhibit the parasympathetic nerve responses that cause involuntary muscle movements and excessive drooling.
- Anticonvulsant medications: Many people with cerebral palsy also have seizure disorders. Anticonvulsants can inhibit seizure activity by reducing excessive brain stimulation.
- Antidepressants: The physical and/or cognitive limitations imposed on people with cerebral palsy often lead to feelings of frustration and sometimes more serious mental health concerns such as depression. In certain cases, antidepressants may be a necessary complement to therapy and other measures to promote mental and emotional well-being.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Anti-inflammatories can be used to manage pain symptoms in people with cerebral palsy. These include anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol.
- Muscle relaxants: These can treat spasticity, increase the range of motion, and inhibit excessive muscle contractions. Two very important muscle relaxants are botox and baclofen. Botox is injected by a medical professional and can be effective for several months before an additional injection is needed. Baclofen (Lioresal) can be taken orally, transdermally, or through an intrathecal baclofen pump. A baclofen pump is a surgically-implanted device that delivers baclofen straight to the spinal cord, where it is needed. There are many reported advantages of baclofen pumps over the oral version, including that it is effective at much lower dosages and therefore results in fewer negative side effects.
Medical Equipment for Cerebral Palsy
The following types of medical equipment can improve health outcomes and/or physical abilities in people with cerebral palsy:
- Intrathecal baclofen pump: Please see “medications.”
- Feeding tubes: People with severe cerebral palsy may be unable to feed themselves, and require a nasogastric (inserted through the nose) or gastronomy (inserted directly into the abdomen) tube.
- Hearing-related devices: Hearing impairment can be a symptom of cerebral palsy; hearing-impaired individuals may benefit from hearing aids and cochlear implants.
- Vagus-nerve stimulators: A vagus nerve stimulator is a device used to control seizures. It is implanted in the chest and prevents seizure activity by sending pulses of electrical energy to the brain.
- Breathing aids: Some people with cerebral palsy require breathing assistance due to muscle weakness, organ problems, or other issues. In certain cases, this may mean breathing through a ventilator.
- Vision-related devices: Many people with cerebral palsy also have vision problems, such as strabismus (“cross-eyes”), myopia (nearsightedness), or hyperopia (farsightedness). Glasses and contact lenses can help to correct some of these issues.
Surgeries for Cerebral Palsy
Although there are no surgeries that can cure cerebral palsy, there are many that can improve health and quality of life. It is important to note that some of these surgeries require extensive post-operative rehabilitation and care in order for the patient to reap the benefits of the procedure itself. Therefore, surgical intervention should be considered a complement to, rather than a replacement for, other forms of treatment and therapy.
Some types of surgery that may benefit people with cerebral palsy include the following:
- Insertion of intrathecal baclofen pump: Please see “medications.”
- Gastroenterology surgery: Some people with cerebral palsy struggle with chewing, swallowing, or digesting food. In certain cases, gastroenterologic surgery may be necessary to alleviate these issues. Some examples include feeding tube insertion and myotomy (a surgery designed to improve swallowing).
- Hearing correction surgery: Individuals whose cerebral palsy causes hearing impairment may benefit from cochlear implant surgery or a stapedectomy, which changes the bone structure of the ear.
- Neurosurgery: There are certain procedures that can improve the symptoms of cerebral palsy by addressing the root neurological problems. These surgeries involve modifying connections in the nervous system. One example is selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), which is a surgery that may help people with spastic cerebral palsy. During an SDR, physicians test sensory nerves in the lower spinal cord in order to identify the ones that are misfiring. They can then selectively destroy these nerves, which can decrease spasticity and improve muscle tone.
- Orthopedic surgery: Orthopedic surgeries can help to improve musculoskeletal abnormalities, spasticity, and issues with balance and walking. Some examples include hip muscle release, tendon lengthening, and lumbar spinal fusion (to improve spinal stability).
- Pulmonary surgery: Pulmonary surgeries can improve issues with breathing, swallowing, and/or drooling. Some examples of pulmonary surgeries that people with cerebral palsy may require include airway obstruction removal, laryngotracheal separation (to separate the upper respiratory and digestive tracts), and submandibular duct relocation (to stop excessive drooling).
- Vision correction surgery: People with visual impairments may need strabismus correction, which can restore binocular vision in people with strabismus, or “cross-eyes.” Those with nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism may benefit from other types of surgery, such as LASIK eye surgery.
Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
There are many types of therapy that can ameliorate the symptoms of cerebral palsy and improve long-term function. With regard to therapy, early intervention is crucial because it can stop certain problems from developing in the first place, and minimize the severity of other issues. People with cerebral palsy may benefit from the following types of therapy:
- Occupational therapy: The goal of occupational therapy is to increase an individual’s independence and ability to perform daily activities. Occupational therapists are able to assist with improving physical and/or mental performance.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy can increase the range of motion, strength, coordination, and other aspects of motor control. Therapy sessions may include exercises, massage, and other activities. Usually, some work can also be done at home.
- Speech therapy: Cerebral palsy can affect control of the face and upper airway, resulting in issues with speaking and swallowing. Speech therapy can improve both of these problems.
- Complementary and alternative therapy: There are many other types of alternative therapies that may help people with cerebral palsy (although efficacy has not been proven for all such treatments). These include hippotherapy (therapeutic horseback riding), acupuncture, yoga, hydrotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, threshold electrical stimulation, and more.
Legal Help for Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy can be caused by a number of factors, including an injury or oxygen-depriving event at or near the time of birth. In some cases, cerebral palsy can emerge as the result of medical negligence. One common example of this is the failure of medical professionals to perform an emergency C-section when a baby is showing signs of fetal distress. A baby in distress is oxygen deprived and may develop a condition called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which can lead to cerebral palsy. If medical professionals fail to recognize signs of distress and/or take appropriate actions to treat a baby with HIE (such as quickly administering hypothermia therapy), this is medical malpractice.
If your baby suffered any birth injuries and has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, please contact our attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers. For decades, we have been helping families whose children have cerebral palsy. We have numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and we will fight to obtain the compensation you and your family deserve. We will evaluate your case to determine if your newborn suffered injuries due the negligence of the physician or medical staff, and you never pay any money until we win your case.
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Disclaimer: This page is intended solely as an educational tool for parents. It is not intended as – and should not be mistaken for – medical advice.
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