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Cerebral Palsy and Muscle Problems

Cerebral palsy affects muscle movement and coordination, but is caused by injuries to the brain. The condition is not progressive. In other words, the central problem of cerebral palsy — brain damage — does not worsen; nor does it improve.

Cerebral palsy primarily affects the body's muscles, which fail to receive signals from the injured areas of the brain. Some of the movement-control portions of the brain are damaged or don't exist or have died in cerebral palsy patients. The location and extent of the damage to the body that cerebral palsy causes is determined by where in the brain the damage occurs and how extensive this damage is.

Even though cerebral palsy patients have working muscles, they cannot receive proper directions from the brain because the areas of the brain governing movement are damaged. So what might appear to be a muscular disorder is actually a neurological disorder.

Cerebral Palsy Affects Muscle Tone

Muscle tone means how much tension or resistance to movement there is in a muscle. Muscle tone enables us to maintain a certain posture. Muscles must work together and be coordinated to allow us to move properly.

To brush our hair, for example, we need to shorten or increase the muscle tone of the biceps (muscles at the front of the arm) while simultaneously lengthening or reducing the tone of the triceps (the muscles at the back of the arm). These muscles groups must be coordinated to work together and allow us to move smoothly and properly.

A primary symptom of cerebral palsy is abnormal muscle tone. Problems with muscle tone may be described in two ways in patients with cerebral palsy:

  • Hypotonic or hypotonia describes decreased or low muscle tone. Hypotonia is associated with non-spastic cerebral palsy.
  • Hypertonic or hypertonia means increased muscle tone. Hypertonia is associated with spastic cerebral palsy.

Cerebral Palsy and Low Muscle Tone

Hypotonia or low muscle tone is a symptom of non-spastic cerebral palsy. The limbs are loose and floppy. This condition is usually noticed by parents when the child is about six months old. Some of the symptoms of babies who are hypotonic at this age are:

  • The child has little or no control of the head
  • When you are holding the baby, he or she feels limp, almost as if they might slide through your hands
  • The arms and legs hang down from their sides, rather than flexing at the elbows and knees
  • The child might slip or fall from a high chair
  • Feeding might be a problem

These children usually have normal intelligence (except for Down's syndrome patients), although they may meet developmental milestones later than other children.

Cerebral Palsy and High Muscle Tone

Abnormally increased muscle tone or hypertonia is a symptom of spastic cerebral palsy. The muscles are continually contracting and don't stretch, causing the body to be stiff and rigid. This type of muscle tone, hypertonia and spasticity, occurs in 70 to 80 percent of people with cerebral palsy.

This kind of constant contracture of the muscles puts enormous strength on the body's bones and joints. It can lead to:

  • Dislocation of the hips
  • Scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
  • Limb deformities

If your baby has problems with muscle tone due to cerebral palsy, we may be able to help you seek compensation to help pay for the necessary treatments. To learn more, please contact our cerebral palsy lawyers today.