What’s the Difference Between Cerebral Palsy and Traumatic Brain Injury?

Causes of Cerebral Palsy, Cerebral Palsy Information

Though cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) have similar treatment plans and forms of rehabilitation, there are several differences between the two conditions. As the parent or loved one of a child with cerebral palsy, it’s important to understand how these conditions differ to ensure your child receives a proper treatment plan to suit their specific needs. Here we explain the differences between cerebral palsy and a traumatic brain injury.

What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy refers to a physical disability or a congenital disorder that affects a child’s movement, posture, and muscle tone. Though the term encompasses a wide range of symptoms and neurological disorders and disabilities, what each child experiences may be different. Some issues children may face when they’re diagnosed with cerebral palsy include:

  • Speech difficulties
  • Movement and walking disabilities
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Epilepsy
  • Emotional challenges
  • Hearing or vision loss

What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury refers to an individual’s brain dysfunction that was caused by a violent external force such as a bump or blow to the head. Traumatic brain injuries can occur in various situations, such as a car accident, a fall, or because of violence or abuse.

What’s the Difference Between Cerebral Palsy and a Traumatic Brain Injury?

While a traumatic brain injury can lead to cerebral palsy, the two terms have several differences. Here are the various areas where cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injury differ:

Age Differences During Diagnosis

Whereas cerebral palsy occurs in young children, people of any age can suffer a traumatic brain injury. Though signs of cerebral palsy may appear in their earlier months of life, a child may not receive a diagnosis until they reach their toddler years. The conditions or damage that lead to cerebral palsy can occur before, during, or after birth. In contrast, a traumatic brain injury occurs after birth, in individuals ranging from infants to senior citizens.


A traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy greatly differ when it comes to their causes. Potential causes of cerebral palsy include anything that causes injury to the developing brain, whether before birth or in the first months of life.
Before birth, some causes of cerebral palsy may include abnormal brain development, infections, lack of oxygen to the brain, stroke, brain bleeding, or a medical error that causes any of these situations. It’s important to note that you can’t always determine a definitive cause when it comes to cerebral palsy.

As stated previously, traumatic brain injuries can stem from a variety of causes, including traffic-related accidents, violence, abuse, assaults, or falls. For young children, this can include shaken baby syndrome. This syndrome may occur when someone forcefully shakes a baby, causing their head to move violently from side to side.

When it comes to older children and adults, concussions may lead to a traumatic brain injury. For example, if a football player is hit on the head or struck forcefully, their concussion may lead to a TBI. Military veterans and those in other dangerous professions may also experience traumatic brain injuries from falls, vehicle accidents, damage from explosive devices, and assaults.

Learning and Development

When it comes to cerebral palsy, children with this diagnosis don’t experience regular progression and development. Essentially, they can’t develop their skills because they’re not learning the skills needed for a normal development process. Children with cerebral palsy need to learn these skills from scratch as opposed to re-gaining them.

In contrast, though it depends on the circumstances, there’s a good chance that a child with a traumatic brain injury will have already achieved some developmental milestones. In other words, they might have already learned skills prior to the injury occurring. Once the traumatic brain injury occurs, they undergo treatment or rehabilitation to regain movement and skills they lost because of brain damage.


Though cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries may have similar treatment approaches, there may be some differences depending on the approach your child’s doctor decides to take.

When a child has cerebral palsy, their treatment may take into account the fact that they’re learning skills they’ve never had before. Common forms of treatment for children with cerebral palsy include:

  • Surgery
  • Medication
  • Various forms of therapy, such as physical, occupational, speech, language, and recreational therapy

When a child has a traumatic brain injury, their treatment may focus on the regaining of lost skills. Common treatment methods for people with a traumatic brain injury include medications, surgery, rehabilitation, and immediate emergency care.

If your child or loved one suffers from cerebral palsy and you believe it’s due to medical malpractice, you may have a case for compensation. Our skilled attorneys at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC have assisted over 30,000 families nationwide. Using our legal and medical expertise, we’re here to help you and your family seek justice and discover the truth. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.



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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