What is Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

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Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders affecting muscle coordination, movement, and balance. While most children with cerebral palsy (CP) are born with it, a diagnosis may happen later. It is typically diagnosed during infancy or early childhood when children with the condition begin to miss certain developmental milestones.

Spastic cerebral palsy, the most common type of CP, is characterized by stiff muscles that cause rigid and jerky movements. This increased muscle tone, known as spasticity, makes tasks like handling objects or speaking difficult, as well as changing positions and controlling specific muscles.

Are There Different Types Of Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

Spastic cerebral palsy has three subtypes, spastic quadriplegia, spastic diplegia, and spastic hemiplegia.

Spastic Quadriplegia

Spastic quadriplegia is a specific type of cerebral palsy that affects the muscle tone and movement of the arms and legs. Children who are diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia cannot control movements in their limbs. The muscles in the arms and legs are not paralyzed but have uncontrollable jerking movements resulting from muscle stiffness.

While the name of this condition refers to the arms and legs, most people with spastic quadriplegia also have difficulty controlling their facial muscles and core body muscles as well. Spastic quadriplegia is considered to be the most severe form of spastic CP. People suffering from it typically cannot walk and often have developmental disabilities such as seizures, problems with vision, speech, and hearing, as well as intellectual disabilities.

Spastic Diplegia

Spastic diplegia, also known as Little’s Disease, is a type of cerebral palsy primarily affecting the lower body, specifically two limbs (usually the legs). It is less severe than spastic quadriplegia, with about one in five children with cerebral palsy being affected by it. Symptoms typically manifest within the first few years of life and include scissoring or contracting movements similar to those seen in quadriplegia. Studies suggest that children with spastic diplegia may also experience developmental conditions such as vision problems.

Spastic Hemiplegia

Spastic hemiplegia, another common form of cerebral palsy, predominantly affects one side of the body. It disrupts the brain’s ability to send proper nerve signals to the muscles, impairing movement. Some children with spastic hemiplegia can walk, while others have to use some assistive device, like a wheelchair or walker.

What Causes Spastic Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy affects body movement and includes neurological disorders caused by brain and spinal cord injuries. Each type results from damage to specific brain areas. Spastic cerebral palsy happens when the motor cortex and pyramidal tracts are injured. These tracts connect the motor cortex to the spinal cord, which is important for coordinating movement. Sometimes, cerebral palsy happens due to a complication of another condition, such as premature birth or low birth weight, while other times, specific causes are unknown.

Essentially, spastic cerebral palsy happens when the damaged part of the brain sends incorrect neurological messages to other parts of the body, impeding the normal development of motor functions. There are four main ways that this type of damage can occur:

  • traumatic brain injury
  • bleeding in the brain
  • damage to the central nervous system
  • lack of oxygen to the brain

The above can occur even when no medical mistakes or negligence are present. However, they can all be caused by medical malpractice as well.

What Are The Symptoms Of Spastic Cerebral Palsy In Infants?

Like general cerebral palsy, children with spastic cerebral palsy will show signs and symptoms early in life, usually between the ages of three months and two years old. The main sign of any cerebral palsy in children is that they do not reach motor or movement milestones at regular times or at all. Below are some of the early signs to be aware of.

In babies under six months of age:

  • muscles may contract and relax quickly
  • head lags when picked up
  • feels floppy when picked up
  • legs get stiff or move in a scissor-like motion
  • seems to overextend neck and back (pushing away from you) when being cradled in your arms
  • difficulty drinking a bottle or sucking

In babies six to ten months of age:

  • doesn’t roll over
  • cannot bring hands together
  • reaches with only one hand, with the other one in a fist
  • has difficulty or cannot bring a hand to the mouth
  • stiff muscles

In babies over ten months of age:

  • unable to crawl
  • unable to walk
  • difficulty or inability to speak

How Is Spastic Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?

Spastic cerebral palsy is typically diagnosed in children between 6 months and 2 years of age when developmental milestones are missed, such as walking or controlling movements. The diagnosis involves a comprehensive history and physical examination, focusing on pregnancy, birth, and infancy.

Various tests are conducted, including neurologic exams, x-rays, EEG, MRI, gait analysis, CT scans, genetic studies, and metabolic tests to assess reflexes, motor functions, brain activity, and genetic factors. These tests help identify abnormalities in brain structure or function, guiding diagnosis and treatment.

How Can A Birth Injury Attorney Help?

Spastic CP, just like other forms of cerebral palsy, can be caused by the negligent actions (or inactions) of doctors, nurses, or other medical personnel. Because a healthcare provider may be at fault, parents with children who have spastic CP must seek legal help as soon as possible.

Caring for a child with spastic CP can be challenging. The financial cost can be exorbitant, and the medical care and physical therapy can be emotionally overwhelming for parents and their children. If your child’s spastic CP was caused by a medical mistake or medical negligence, you may be able to file a birth injury claim to recover damages from the responsible parties, providing much-needed financial help to the family.

Ross Feller Casey has an unrivaled history of winning multi-million-dollar birth injury lawsuits, including those involving spastic cerebral palsy. The firm has a team of leading physicians right on staff to help litigate even the most complicated birth injury lawsuits. Ross Feller Casey handles all its cases, including cerebral palsy lawsuits, on a contingency basis, so you will never pay a thing until a financial recovery is made in your case.

Contact our experienced cerebral palsy lawyers now for a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Daniel J. Rovner joined Ross Feller Casey in 2017 after 20 years as one of the leading defense attorneys in Pennsylvania, representing some of the state’s largest health systems and physician practice groups against medical malpractice claims.

Daniel Rovner

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