If only there were an “undo” button for life. We could roll back time and make birth injuries like cerebral palsy vanish in an instant. Obviously, that’s just fantasy. But a cure would be the next best thing. Is there a cure for cerebral palsy? We’ll answer that question and more below.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is one of the most common birth injuries. About one in 323 children in the United States have it. It is a movement disorder stemming from a brain injury that occurs before, during, or shortly after birth. CP can also develop when a baby’s brain doesn’t form properly.
The brain damage that causes CP affects the part of the brain that controls muscles. That’s why it can be hard for people with cerebral palsy to control their movements. Some people with cerebral palsy may have stiff or tight muscles. Others may have weak muscles. They can have difficulty walking, talking, or doing everyday tasks like eating or dressing.
Is There a Cure for Cerebral Palsy?
As with almost any illness, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that there is currently no cure for cerebral palsy. And the good news? Cerebral palsy isn’t a progressive disease. That means a child won’t get worse as they get older.
That being said, sometimes symptoms of cerebral palsy aren’t noticeable until a child is older. So it might seem like they’re “getting worse”.
For example, diplegic cerebral palsy affects the legs the most. So a child with this type of CP might show little to no signs of it as a baby. But they may have difficulty learning to walk.
Here’s some more good news. Cerebral palsy treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. It can help children gain independence and handle daily activities on their own. And a newer treatment, called cooling therapy, may help prevent or reduce the effects of CP.
Cerebral Palsy Treatment Options
Treatment for a child with cerebral palsy depends on several factors, such as:
- The severity of their injury
- What type of cerebral palsy they have (athetoid, ataxic, spastic, hypotonic, or mixed type)
- Which parts of the body have movement issues
- Whether they have co-existing conditions stemming from the brain injury that caused CP.
- (Like intellectual disabilities, vision impairment, and seizures.)
There’s a lot of variation from child to child. But the most common cerebral palsy treatment options fall into four categories: medication, orthotics, therapy, and surgery.
Let’s take a closer look at what these therapy options entail:
If you’ve ever asked “Is there a cure for cerebral palsy?” you probably wish someone would invent a miracle pill. Unfortunately, there’s no one medication that “fixes” this disease. So doctors focus on prescribing medications that help manage its symptoms.
Medication for cerebral palsy may include:
- Pain killers
- Muscle relaxants
- Reflux or constipation drugs
- Benzodiazepines (depressant drugs/tranquilizers)
- Baclofen (reduces spasticity and relaxes tense muscles)
- Diazepam (treats seizures and muscle spasms)
- Dantrolene (relieves muscle tightness and spasms)
- Nerve blocks
Medication for CP can come in the form of pills, injections, and patches. Some children receive their medication via a feeding tube.
The goal of physical therapy for CP is to improve a child’s overall mobility. A therapist might use stretching and exercise to help a child improve their posture, strength, and balance. The techniques will vary based on what type of CP a child has. But in general, a physical therapy treatment plan might include:
- Strength training
- Hot and cold therapy
- Balance balls and resistance bands
- Muscle relaxing techniques
Orthotics are wearable devices like splints, braces, and casts. They can help train a child’s muscles to move or grow the right way. They can also help stretch stiff muscles. For many children, they’re an essential component of their cerebral palsy treatment plan.
Have you heard of cryotherapy? Maybe you’ve seen fitness gurus posting about this trend on social media platforms. They dive into sub-zero waters or enter chambers filled with freezing cold air. Cryotherapy is gaining in popularity because of its purported muscle-recovery benefits.
Cooling therapy for infants with cerebral palsy is similar. It involves lowering a newborn’s normal body temperature from 98.6°F to about 92.3°F. They will stay at that temperature for 73 hours while doctors monitor them. Then doctors raise the child’s temperature back up.
Also known as therapeutic hypothermia, cooling therapy may prevent cerebral palsy. How is that possible? Well, if sometimes a baby suffers from oxygen deprivation around the time of birth. This lack of oxygen can lead to brain damage. But cooling the body “slows down” any damage that might occur. So the baby has a much smaller chance of getting a brain injury that could lead to CP.
Keep in mind that cooling therapy is only for newborns who are less than 6 hours old. Also, scientists are still researching it. It may not always prevent a baby from getting cerebral palsy.
In some cases, a child with CP will need surgery. Here are some examples:
- Spasticity correction. Spasticity is a common symptom of CP. It can cause muscle stiffness, pain, and limited mobility. Surgery can correct spasticity by cutting some of the nerves or tendons that control the affected muscles.
- Osteotomy. This is a surgical procedure that involves cutting and repositioning bones. The goal is to improve the alignment and function of a joint. Osteotomy can also correct deformities.
- Joint fusion. This procedure involves fusing two or more bones together. It can improve stability and reduce pain. It may be used to treat severe joint deformities.
- Scoliosis surgery. Some children with CP also develop scoliosis. Their spines curve to one side. Surgery can straighten the spine and prevent further curvature.
- Selective dorsal rhizotomy. This is a neurosurgical procedure. It involves cutting some of the nerve fibers in the spinal cord to reduce spasticity and improve motor function.
- Addressing hip dislocation. Muscle weakness and spasticity put children with CP at risk of hip dislocation. They may need surgery to realign the hip joint and prevent further damage.
In most cases, children with CP don’t undergo surgery right away. Doctors often wait until they are between 6 and 8 years old.
Your child’s CP treatment plan will probably include a mixture of the options above. They may also need social and/or emotional therapy, which we’ll discuss below.
What About Social/Emotional Cerebral Palsy Treatment?
Cerebral palsy treatment goes beyond treating physical symptoms. Many children need treatment for their social and emotional needs as well.
Living with cerebral palsy can be challenging. Emotional therapy can help children deal with their feelings toward their impairments. Also, surgery and physical therapy can be overwhelming. So meeting with a therapist also serves to help a child navigate their feelings about their treatment.
How Much Does Cerebral Palsy Treatment Cost?
$1 million dollars. That’s the CDC’s estimated lifetime cost of care for someone living with cerebral palsy. If you’re the parent of a child with CP, you’re probably looking for ways to cover the cost.
Financial assistance may be available. For example, there’s Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But if your child’s CP was the result of medical negligence, taking legal action could be the way to go.
Hampton & King has recovered millions of dollars in damages for cerebral palsy and birth injury cases. To find out whether you may have grounds to sue for the cost of your child’s cerebral palsy treatment, get a free case review here.