What Drugs Are Used to Treat Spasticity in Children with Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy Treatments, Patient Care

Pile of spasticity pills / girl with cerebral palsy in background

Because cerebral palsy (CP) has varying levels of severity, each child with a CP diagnosis may experience it differently. Some children may have very few symptoms, while others may have significant developmental delays, both physically and cognitively. However, many children affected with cerebral palsy experience issues of spasticity. In fact, a CDC study reported that of the children diagnosed with cerebral palsy, 77.4% of those cases were spastic cerebral palsy.

Effective treatment for CP uses all available forms of therapy and rehabilitation to create the most positive outcomes possible for patients—including medication. Keep reading as we dive into learning about which kinds of medications are used to treat spasticity in children with CP, and how they help better manage symptoms.

Cerebral Palsy and Muscles

To understand why certain medications are used for spasticity in children with cerebral palsy, it’s important to recognize how and why the symptoms manifest in CP, a disorder of movement and muscles. It is related to nerve and brain damage. When these parts of the body are damaged, it affects the muscles and therefore how a person moves.

In children with CP, muscle issues are generally common. Children with spastic CP have increased muscle tone, which makes the muscles stiff and rigid, causing involuntary, jerky movements, along with soreness and lack of coordination. Other children with non-spastic CP also experience the stiff muscles that result in spastic movement. In addition to being disruptive to daily life, it can also be uncomfortable, and even painful for some. These spasms can also interfere with certain treatments, such as physical therapy, and can prevent a child from getting adequate sleep. Therefore, controlling these spasms by relaxing the rigid muscles is an incredibly important part of helping a child live a more manageable life.

Muscle Relaxants: The Most Common Drugs to Treat Spasticity

One effective strategy for treating the stiff and spastic muscles of cerebral palsy is by using medication—more specifically, muscle relaxants. These medications generally result in patients’ experiencing a decrease in the pain, stiffness, and spastic movements that are so common in CP. Also known as antispasmodics, muscle relaxants help decrease muscle tone by acting on the central nervous system.

  • Baclofen: This muscle relaxant is also known by the names Gablofen and Lioresal. It aims to reduce spasticity by blocking signals that travel from the spinal cord to the muscles. It can be administered orally, or directly injected into the spine, which sends the medication to the precise location where it’s needed.
    • Possible side effects: Baclofen may cause weakness, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and sedation. It may also elevate liver enzymes.
  • Dantrolene: Sold under the brand names Revonto and Dantrium, this drug works by interfering with the contraction of the muscles, thereby relaxing them.
    • Possible side effects: Dantrolene may cause weakness, depression, diarrhea, and drowsiness. It may also cause toxicity to the liver, which can be permanently damaging.
  • Diazepam: This muscle relaxer works by relaxing the brain and the body,acting on neurotransmitters located in the brain.
    • Possible side effects: Also known as Valium, Diazepam is a benzodiazepine, a class of drug that carries the potential for dependence and can trigger withdrawal symptoms if medication is stopped abruptly. It also may cause depression, sedation, and difficulty with cognitive function.

Although these are the most commonly used muscle relaxants used to treat CP and offer much-needed relief from the discomfort of spasticity, they also carry their own set of risks, just as with any drug. If the side effects of any of these drugs become too uncomfortable, your doctor will be able to offer a different type or may suggest that the medication only be used when the spasms become severe or interfere with sleep. The type of muscle relaxer or therapy that will best suit your child will depend on his or her medical history and unique health circumstances, so seeking the advice of your doctor is key. As medical research evolves, there may even be newer medications available to help ease your child’s symptoms without such negative side effects.

Let Our Experienced Team Guide Your Child to a Brighter Future

If you believe that your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of malpractice, you’re not alone. The Cerebral Palsy Family Attorneys at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC are here to offer the educational and legal resources to help your family move forward. Contact us today to discuss your potential case, and let us help your child reach his or her full potential.

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