Spasticity and Cerebral Palsy

Associated Conditions, Birth Injury

person with spastic cerebral palsy using tablet with screen that reads

Spasticity is one of the common symptoms of cerebral palsy. It refers to an abnormally high level of muscle tone or stiffness, which can cause movement difficulties or even discomfort or pain. As such, this condition could prevent a person from performing daily tasks and living a normal life.

Most cerebral palsy patients experience some degree of spasticity, which differs depending on the type of cerebral palsy they have. Diplegic cerebral palsy causes spasticity in the legs, while hemiplegic cerebral palsy affects one side of the body. Quadriplegic cerebral palsy makes all four limbs stiff and contracted, but it can also lead to muscle disorders in the core of the body and the face. Also, the severity of spasticity may vary from one patient to another.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy Spasticity

Normally, muscles need to have adequate tone to maintain movement or posture against the force of gravity while still providing good flexibility and movement speed. The command to increase muscle tone is sent to the spinal cord via the sensory nerve fibers in the muscle itself. These nerve fibers tell the spinal cord how much tone the muscle should have. The command to reduce muscle tone is transmitted from nerves in the brain to the spinal cord. These two commands must be properly coordinated in the spinal cord in order for the muscle to work smoothly while maintaining strength.

Muscle spasticity in cerebral palsy patients results from damage to the brain. The damage tends to occur in the part of the brain that regulates muscle tone, as well as arm and leg movements. Consequently, the brain is unable to control the flexibility of a muscle. Since the command from the muscle has a significantly greater influence on the spinal cord, the muscle becomes too tense or spastic. Many factors can contribute to brain damage that causes muscle spasticity in cerebral palsy patients, including:

  • Premature birth
  • Maternal infections
  • Maternal medical conditions
  • Infant infections
  • Fetal stroke
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Placenta problems
  • Medical negligence

Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy Spasticity

In more severe cases of cerebral palsy, spasticity may be noticeable in the first year of a child’s life. However, it’s usually detected later. Some of the common symptoms of cerebral palsy spasticity include:

  • Muscle stiffness that reduces the precision of movements and makes certain tasks harder to perform
  • Muscle spasms that cause uncontrollable muscle contractions, which may be painful sometimes
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Muscle and joint deformities
  • Involuntary crossing of legs
  • Interference with longitudinal muscle growth
  • Reduced protein synthesis in muscle cells

It’s important to note that children with cerebral palsy may not have limb deformities at birth, but they tend to develop those deformities over time. Muscle spasticity and the limitations on the use of muscles in daily activities are major causes of extremity deformities.

Management of Spasticity in Cerebral Palsy Patients

Once spasticity starts occurring with cerebral palsy, it can’t be cured. However, proper management of spasticity in cerebral palsy patients can help them gain better control over their movements and achieve greater independence. Some of the commonly used methods for treating cerebral palsy spasticity include:

  • Medications: Many doctors prescribe medications such as baclofen, tizanidine, diazepam, and clonazepam to cerebral palsy patients who are experiencing spasticity.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy regimens such as muscle stretching exercises and range-of-motion activities are effective in controlling shrinkage and shortening of muscles, resulting in reduced spasticity.
  • Botox injections: In recent years, Botox injections have been widely used to manage cerebral palsy spasticity. After an injection, Botox can weaken muscles for up to four months and alleviate spasticity in certain types of muscles. This method is only temporarily effective, but it’s known to cause minimal side effects.
  • Baclofen infusion: Baclofen infusion involves implanting a pump in the abdominal wall to reduce spasticity in people with cerebral palsy or spinal cord injury. However, like Botox injections, this procedure isn’t permanently effective. Spasticity recurs when the baclofen pump is removed.
  • Orthopedic surgery: Orthopedic surgery doesn’t directly reduce spasticity, but it’s effective in treating the consequences of spasticity in people with cerebral palsy. It can improve the range of motion of joints to make it easier for patients to move their lower limbs. Orthopedic operations such as tendon-lengthening and muscle-release procedures are used to treat deformities that result from spastic cerebral palsy.

Since it can’t be completely resolved, cerebral palsy spasticity is a lifelong, debilitating condition. As such, it can place a heavy emotional and financial burden on patients and their family members. If you think that medical malpractice may be the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy, you may be eligible for compensation. With a highly successful track record of handling medical negligence cases, the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC can help you uncover the truth and pursue any compensation you deserve. Contact us today to seek justice for your child and family.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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