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What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a broad term used to describe a group of chronic disorders affecting body movement and muscle coordination. This appears in the first few years of life and generally does not worsen over time; therefore, it is non-progressive

"Cerebral" meaning of the brain (referring to the two hemispheres of the brain)
"Palsy" meaning lack of muscle control/body movement

It is important to note that these disorders are not caused by problems in the muscles or nerves. Instead, faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain disrupts the brain's ability to adequately control movement and posture.

Development of the brain starts in early pregnancy and continues until about the age of three. Damage to the brain during this time may result in CP. This damage interferes with messages from the brain to the body, and from the body to the brain.

The degree of disability may range from very minimal to extremely severe. The numerous manifestations of CP may be categorized into five major types:

  1. Spasticity
    • Due to damage to the cerebrum, there is loss of control of voluntary motor actions, leading to stiff and permanently contracted muscles;
    • Often results in jerky movements and can lead to postural problems.
  2. Athetosis
    • The control centre for purposeful movement, the basal ganglia, is affected;
    • Characterized by constant, involuntary, slow and writhing movements that are uncontrollable, unpredictable and purposeless (mostly occur in the hands and feet);
    • Examples of possible effects are speech impediment, drooling and/or grimacing.
  3. Ataxia
    • This is caused by damage to the cerebellum, which is responsible for the coordination of muscle functions affecting balance and depth perception;
    • Results in uncoordinated movements, awkward gait, lack of hand coordination and possible tremors.
  4. Rigidity
    • Is a result of damage to motor cortex and basal ganglia;
    • It could also cause very tense and stiff muscles; therefore, movement is quite difficult.
  5. Tremor
    • Results from damage to the cerebellum and/or basal ganglia;
    • Least frequent manifestation is characterized by uncontrolled, involuntary rhythmic motion;
    • Most prevalent when attempting to control movement..

Due to the numerous physical manifestations of CP it is difficult to group athletes for fair competition. As a result, a classification system (8 classes) is used to individually assess CP athletes in their respective sports. Within each class, every person will have similar functional abilities but could have very different physical characteristics. The classification system equates the functional ability of the CP athlete to the sport, enabling fair and competitive play.

Cerebral Palsy is:

  • A condition, not a disease
  • Not hereditary
  • Not contagious
  • Non-progressive
  • A life long condition
  • Not life threatening
  • People with CP have a normal life expectancy
  • CP affects 2 to 3 out of every 1000 people