Updated: 10/23/2021

Cerebral Palsy - General

Review Topic
  • summary
    • Cerebral Palsy is a common congenital condition caused by injury to the immature brain that leads to upper motor neuron disease and presents with cognitive and musculoskeletal manifestations of varying severity.
    • Diagnosis is made clinically with evaluation of developmental milestones, cognitive function, and musculoskeletal abnormalities including spasticity, loss of motor control, and impaired balance.
    • Treatment involves a multidisciplinary approach to address spasticity, orthopedic manifestations, and cognitive function. 
  • Epidemiology
    • Incidence
      • 2-3 per 1000
    • Demographics
      • by definition onset must be before first two years of life, although diagnosis may be delayed in very mild cases
      • most common cause of chronic childhood disability
  • Etiology
    • Nonprogressive upper motor neuron disease (static encephalopathy) due to injury to immature brain
      • orthopaedic manifestations
        • contractures (this topic)
        • fractures (this topic)
        • upper extremity deformities
        • hip subluxation and dislocation
        • spinal deformity
        • foot deformities
        • gait disorders
    • Pathophysiology
      • pathoanatomy
        • leads to muscle imbalance with a mixture of weakness and spasticity
        • the encephalopathy is static while the affected portion of the musculoskeletal system changes with growth
      • risk factors
        • prematurity (most common)
        • anoxic injuries
        • prenatal intrauterine factors
        • perinatal infections
          • toxoplasmosis
          • rubella
          • cytomegalovirus infection
          • herpes simplex
          • ToRCH
        • meningitis
        • brain malformations
        • brain trauma - NAT
    • Associated conditions
      • orthopaedic manifestations characteristic of CP
        • primary
          • abnormal tone
          • loss of motor control
          • impaired balance
          • spasticity
          • (hypotonia)
          • (dyskenesias such as chorea and athetosis)
        • secondary (growth and spasticity related)
          • contractures
            • starts as dynamic contractures, become static with time (continuous muscle contraction results in shortening) and growth (growth of bones occurs at a faster longitudinal rate than muscles in spastic cerebral palsy)
          • upper extremity deformities
          • hip subluxation and dislocation
          • spinal deformity
          • foot deformities
          • gait disorders
          • fractures
            • often associated with non-ambulators secondary to low bone mineral density
            • bisphosphonates may be useful
              • IV pamidronate considered with >3 fractures and a DEXA z-score <2 SD
  • Classification
      • Physiologic Classification
      • Spastic
      • Most common
      • Velocity-dependent increased muscle tone and hyperreflexia with slow, restricted movement due to simultaneous contraction of agonist and antagonist muscles.
      •  Most amenable to operative treatments.
      • Athetoid
      • Characterized by a constant succession of slow, writhing, involuntary movements
      • Ataxic
      • Characterized by inability to coordinate muscle movements.
      • Results in unbalanced, wide based gait.
      • Mixed
      • Usually mixed spastic and athetoid features and involves the entire body
      • Hypotonic
      • Usually precedes spastic or ataxic for 2-3 years
      • Anatomic Classification
      • Quadriplegic
      • Total body involvement and nonambulatory
      • Diplegic
      • Legs more than arms but usually still ambulatory.
      •  IQ may be normal (injury in brain is midline) 
      • Hemiplegic
      • Arms and legs on one side of the body, usually with spasticity
      • Will eventually be able to walk, regardless of treatment
      • Gross Motor Function Classification Scale (GMFCS)
      • Type I
      • Near normal gross motor function, independent ambulator
      • Type II
      • Walks independently, but difficulty with uneven surfaces, minimal ability to jump
      • Type III
      • Walks with assistive devices
      • Type IV
      • Severely limited walking ability, primary mobility is wheelchair
      • Type V
      • Nonambulator with global involvment, dependent in all aspects of care
  • Evaluation
    • History
      • clinical history
        • perinatal history
        • growth & development
        • prior medical treatments
      • functional status
        • sitting/standing posture
        • upper and lower extremities function
        • communication skills
        • acuity of hearing and vision
    • Physical exam
      • general musculoskeletal exam
        • motion, tone, and strength
        • Rotational limb profiles for torsional deformities
      • gait
        • gait lab analysis
        • plantigrade feet
        • crouch
        • stiff knee gait
      • spine exam
        • presence and flexibility of scoliosis
        • spinal balance and shoulder height
        • pelvic obliquity
        • resting head posture
        • hamstring contractures (lead to decreased lumbar lordosis)
      • hips
        • hip contractures
          • flexion contracture (lead to excessive lumbar lordosis)
          • adduction contracture
        • hip instability and dislocations are common, may be looked over as a contracture alone
          • observe thigh length in sitting, leg length when supine, or galleazzi test
          • adductor contracture can make examination difficult
      • foot and ankle
        • equinovarus and planovalgus deformities common
        • observe wear patterns, callouses
        • note hypertonicity
        • toe walking or absent heel strike during gait secondary to gastrosoleus spasticity and contracture
          • may hyperextend knee to obtain heel contact
        • provacative Silverskiold test to differentiate gastrocnemius contracture vs achilles contracture
  • Imaging
    • Radiographs
      • standard radiographs should include
        • AP and lateral of hips
        • standing spine radiographs as baseline
    • MRI
      • MRI of brain shows a spectrum of changes including
        • periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) white matter lesions most frequent (56%)
        • while grey matter lesions (18%)
        • brain malformations are less frequent (9%)
  • Treatment Spasticity & Deformity
    • Nonoperative
      • physical therapy, bracing/orthotics, medications for spasticity
        • spasticity control
          • Botox (botulinum - A toxin)
            • competitive inhibitor of presynaptic cholinergic receptors with a finite lifetime (usually lasts 2-3 months)
            • used to maintain joint motion during rapid growth when a child is too young for surgery
            • often injected into gastrocnemius
            • helpful treatment in dynamic contractures; little benefit with static contractures
          • baclofen
            • reduces tone via unknown mechanism
              • thought to act as GABA agonist
              • intra-thecal administration is preferred route to avoid cognitive impairment seen with oral administration (poor bioavailability leads to difficulty with oral dosing)
              • Intra-thecal baclofen tends to be used for non-ambulatory CP (GMFCS IV and V)
            • side effects
              • baclofen withdrawal
                • can cause severe fevers, hyperkalemia, and elevated CPK levels
    • Operative
      • soft tissue procedures/releases
        • indications
          • to improve function in child from 3-5 years of age with spasticity and voluntary muscle control
        • techniques
          • tenotomies for continuously active muscles (e.g. hip adductor)
          • tendon lengthening for continuously active muscles (e.g. achilles tendon or hamstring)
          • tendon transfers for muscles firing out of phase (e.g. rectus tendon or tibialis posterior)
            • tendon transfers in the upper extremity show the best improvement in function in patients with voluntary motor control
      • selective dorsal rhizotomy
        • indications
          • ages 4 to 8, ambulatory spastic diplegia, and a stable gait pattern that is limited by lower extremity spasticity
        • neurosurgical resection of dorsal rootlets that do not show a myographic or clinical response to stimulation
        • contraindications
          • athetoid CP
          • nonambulatory patients with spastic quadriplegia (associated with significant spinal deformities)
        • falling out of favor due to limited functional gains and no reduced risk of subsequent musculoskeletal surgeries
      • bony procedures/deformity correction
        • indications
          • usually performed in later childhood / adolescence
          • static contractures, progressive joint breakdown, and certain patterned gait-deterioration can be treated with combinations of myotendonous unit lengthening, tendon transfers, and osteotomies
        • SEMLS surgery (Single-Event, Multi-Level Surgery)
          • concept arose to limit multiple surgeries, anesthetics, and rehabilitation time for children
          • most successful when combined with a thorough gait lab assessment that predicts improvemenet in function with multiple level surgical interventions
          • simple lengthenings can cause deterioration in gait when other contractures are "uncovered"; SEMLS management seeks to avoid these iatrogenic complications
          • can be done on bilateral lower extremities in efforts to improve gait
        • specific procedures
          • see Cerebral Palsy Upper Extremity Conditions
          • see Cerebral Palsy Spine Conditions
          • see Cerebral Palsy Hip Conditions
          • see Cerebral Palsy Gait Disorders
          • see Cerebral Palsy Foot Disorders
  • Prognosis
    • Most reliable predictor for ability to walk is independent sitting by age 2

Please rate this review topic.

You have never rated this topic.

Thank you. You can rate this topic again in 12 months.

Technique Guides (4)
Flashcards (5)
1 of 5
Questions (12)
Question locked
Sorry, this question is for
PEAK Premium Subscribers only
Upgrade to PEAK
Question locked
Sorry, this question is for
PEAK Premium Subscribers only
Upgrade to PEAK
Question locked
Sorry, this question is for
PEAK Premium Subscribers only
Upgrade to PEAK
Question locked
Sorry, this question is for
PEAK Premium Subscribers only
Upgrade to PEAK
Question locked
Sorry, this question is for
PEAK Premium Subscribers only
Upgrade to PEAK
Question locked
Sorry, this question is for
PEAK Premium Subscribers only
Upgrade to PEAK

(OBQ09.171) In patients with cerebral palsy, voluntary control of motion best predicts improvement in function after which of the following?

QID: 2984

Botox injection



Selective dorsal rhizotomy



Wrist/hand tendon transfer surgery



Femoral derotational osteotomies



Tibial derotational osteotomies



L 1 D

Select Answer to see Preferred Response

(OBQ09.266) Which of the following decreases acetylcholine levels in the synaptic cleft by blocking the presynaptic release of acetylcholine peripherally?

QID: 3079




Botulinum toxin A












L 1 C

Select Answer to see Preferred Response

(SAE07PE.13) Which of the following findings is most prognostic for the ability of a young child with cerebral palsy to walk?

QID: 6073

Ability to sit independently by age 2 years



Ability to creep by age 2 years



Ability to roll by age 2 years



Pattern of cerebral palsy (quadriplegia, diplegia, hemiplegia)



Type of motor dysfunction (spastic, ataxic, dyskinetic, hypotonic)



L 4 E

Select Answer to see Preferred Response

(SAE07PE.8) An 18-year-old girl with quadriplegic cerebral palsy underwent posterior spinal fusion from T2 to the pelvis 3 weeks ago. She now has a low-grade fever and mild midline erythema in a 1-cm area from which there is slight clear yellowish drainage. What is the next most appropriate step in management?

QID: 6068

Oral antibiotics empirically



Culture of the drainage and oral antibiotics



Aspiration of the wound and IV antibiotics empirically



Wound culture with incision and debridement, IV antibiotics, and retention of instrumentation



Wound culture with incision and debridement, IV antibiotics, and removal of instrumentation followed by bracing



L 1 E

Select Answer to see Preferred Response

(OBQ07.12) A six-year-old male child has cerebral palsy and limited ambulatory function. Physical exam is notable for mild spasticity in all four extremities, with the lower extremities demonstrating more involvement than the upper extremities. Cognitive function is mildly delayed for chronologic age. Pelvis radiograph is notable for dysplasia of bilateral hips. Which of the following terms best desribes this patient's cerebral palsy?

QID: 673













Total body



L 4 D

Select Answer to see Preferred Response

(SBQ04PE.15) A 5-year-old girl with cerebral palsy presents for evaluation of spastic diplegia. She is ambulatory without the use of assistive devices and reports slow, involuntary, convoluted, writhing movements of the fingers, hands, toes, and feet. Which of the following interventions is contraindicated in this patient?

QID: 2200

Botox injections



Selective dorsal rhizotomy



Upper extremity tendon transfers



SEMLS (Single-Event, Multi-Level Surgery)



Intrathecal baclofen injections



L 5 D

Select Answer to see Preferred Response

Evidence (30)
Private Note