New to cerebral palsy, or experienced, our education section offers updated information about the care, treatment, and facts, for both children and adults.

Seen from behind, the ‘Waiting On Shore’ monument, depicting a woman with reaching arms by the shore in Rosses Point, Ireland.

Prevalence of Cerebral Palsy

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series. You can ask questions of the author on the MyCP Forum].

The sculpture above “Waiting on shore” is located in our village (Rosses Point) on the Atlantic coast. It reflects the age-old anguish of seafaring people who watched and waited for the safe return of loved ones. It’s a gentle reminder to future generations to remember a proud history of courage and survival, of loss and grief.

In the last two posts, I addressed causes of and risk factors for CP. This week I’ll cover the prevalence of CP. The prevalence of a condition is how many people in a defined population have the condition at a specific point in time. Prevalence rates can vary geographically. A 2013 worldwide review found that the overall prevalence of CP was 2.11 per 1,000 live births*1. A recent (2019) study, however, reported that the birth prevalence** of CP declined across Australian states between 1995 and 20092. The percentage of children with CP whose disability was moderate to severe also decreased. A 2020 report on collaborative research between the European and Australian Surveillance Networks found similar decreasing prevalence of CP in Europe3. This is encouraging.

Some further points to note:

  • CP is the most common cause of physical disability in children4.
  • Males are at higher risk of CP than females. Data from Australia found that 57 percent of those with CP were male, while males represented 51 percent of all births5. This may be because males have certain nerve cell vulnerabilities that may result in CP6. It is noteworthy that there are frequently more male than female participants in CP studies.
  • Relative to its prevalence and its impact on the life span of those with the condition, funding for CP research is very low. The NIH reports research funding by condition. Although the reported prevalence of CP is twice as high as that of Down syndrome (0.2 percent versus 0.1 percent), funding allocated to CP research in 2019 ($28 million) was significantly lower than that of Down syndrome research ($86 million)7. Funding estimates for 2020 and 2021 are $29 and $26 million, respectively, for CP and $113 and $105 million for Down syndrome.
  • An analysis of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for CP research from 2001 to 2013 found that only 4 percent went toward studies of CP in adulthood8. Thus research on CP in adulthood receives only a small percentage of an already small budget.

*Births up to 2004.
**This was formerly referred to as “incidence,” but the term “birth prevalence” is now felt to be more accurate2.

1Oskoui M, Coutinho F, Dykeman J, Jetté N, Pringsheim T (2013) An update on the prevalence of cerebral palsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Dev Med Child Neurol 55: 509–519.
2Galea C, Mcintyre S, Smithers-Sheedy H, et al. (2019) Cerebral palsy trends in Australia (1995–2009): a population-based observational study. Dev Med Child Neurol 61: 186–193.
3Sellier E, McIntyre S, Smithers-Sheedy H, Platt MJ, SCPE and ACPR Groups (2020) European and Australian Cerebral Palsy Surveillance Networks Working Together for Collaborative Research. Neuropediatrics 51(2): 105-112.
4Graham HK, Rosenbaum P, Paneth N, et al. (2016) Cerebral palsy. Nat Rev Dis Primers 2: 1–24.
5Australian Cerebral Palsy Register (ACPR) Group (2013) Australian Cerebral Palsy Register Report 2013. [pdf] Available at: .
6Graham HK, Thomason P, Novacheck TF (2014) Cerebral palsy. In: Weinstein SL, Flynn JM, editors, Lovell and Winter’s Pediatric Orthopedics, Level 1 and 2. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, pp 484–554.
7National Institutes of Health (NIH) (2020) Estimates of Funding for Various Research, Condition, and Disease Categories (RCDC). [online] Available at: .
8Wu YW, Mehravari AS, Numis AL, Gross P (2015) Cerebral palsy research funding from the National Institutes of Health, 2001 to 2013. Dev Med Child Neurol 57: 936–941.

Seen from across the gently lapping waters, Ben Bulben, a massive flat-rock formation in Ireland under a clear blue sky.

Cerebral Palsy Causes and Risk Factors – Part 2

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series.]

Our home is in Sligo, on the north west coast of Ireland. It’s known for its scenery and also its association with the poet, WB Yeats. Sligo has special mountains–Knocknarea (really only a hill, included in a previous post) and Ben Bulben above (elevation 1,726 feet).

In my last post I gave a typical list of causes of and risk factors for CP. This week I will look at some studies that give us further insight.

  • Although any one risk factor, if severe, may be sufficient to cause CP, more often it is the presence of multiple risk factors that leads to CP. One factor may interact with another to cause the brain injury, such as an event (or events) during pregnancy combined with the stress of birth combined with a genetic vulnerability1.
  • The literature suggests that events during pregnancy are more likely to cause CP than events during labor or delivery. More specifically:
  • A major US study, called the Collaborative Perinatal Project, conducted between 1959 and 1974 followed approximately 50,000 women and their children from the first prenatal visit until the children were seven years old. It found that events during labor and delivery were not major contributors to the occurrence of CP; most cases had their origins before labor began. A second finding was that intrauterine inflammation was a major cause of adverse pregnancy outcome2.
  • At least 70 percent of cases of CP have antecedents* during pregnancy, and only 10 to 20 percent of cases are related to the child’s birth3. Neither the routine use of fetal monitoring during labor nor the increased incidence of caesarean births (factors which reduce risk during labor and delivery) have reduced the number of cases of CP3.
  • Most brain injuries which cause CP occur in the second half of pregnancy, a period when the rate of brain development is fastest4.
  • Some risk factors are on the decline, but others are increasing3,5. Advances in neonatal care have reduced the risk of birth injury. However, with these advances more preterm infants and infants with low birth weight are surviving, some of whom may develop CP. In vitro fertilization has led to more multiple births, and multiple births is a risk factor for CP. The fact that some risk factors are decreasing while others are increasing is leading to a change in the type of CP that develops. For example, an injury to a brain at 24 weeks can have a different effect than one at 28 weeks or 36 weeks. Until recently, babies born at 24 weeks would not have survived. Now, thankfully, many of these babies survive; however, some may develop CP. The most common types of CP differ in different parts of the world, depending on risk factors.
  • In approximately 90 percent of cases, CP results from healthy brain tissue becoming damaged rather than from abnormalities in brain development5.
  • Confirmation of the presence of a brain injury by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) occurs in many but not all cases. Up to 17 percent of people with CP have normal MRI brain scans5. Imaging may also help determine when the brain injury occurred5.
  • The cause of CP in an individual child is very often unknown6.

Though I did not know what caused Tommy’s CP, in the early days I wasted a lot of time feeling guilty. I had worked very hard and was stressed during his pregnancy, and I felt responsible. Today I no longer feel that sense of guilt. I didn’t knowingly do anything wrong: my life circumstances were such that I was very busy, and besides, there are multiple possible causes of brain injury. I encourage parents to waste no time on guilt—we are where we are and we must move forward.

* Things that existed before or that logically preceded another event.

1Nelson KB (2008) Causative factors in cerebral palsy. Clin Obstet Gynecol 51: 749–762.
2Klebanoff MA (2009) The collaborative perinatal project: a 50-year prospective. Pediatr Perinat Epidemiol 23: 2–8.
3Graham HK, Thomason P, Novacheck TF (2014) Cerebral palsy. In: Weinstein SL, Flynn JM, editors, Lovell and Winter’s Pediatric Orthopedics, Level 1 and 2. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, pp 484–554.
4Hadders-Algra M (2014) Early diagnosis and early intervention in cerebral palsy. Front Neurol 5(185): 1–13.
5Graham HK, Rosenbaum P, Paneth N, et al. (2016) Cerebral palsy. Nat Rev Dis Primers 2: 1–24.
6Rosenbaum P, Rosenbloom L (2012) Cerebral Palsy: From Diagnosis to Adulthood. London: Mac Keith Press.

A white speech bubble against a lime green background with the words ‘Let’s talk about CP’.

Webinar: Speech and Language Predictors of Participation

Webinar: Speech and Language Predictors of Participation

Kristen Allison, PhD, CCC-SLP

Kristen Allison, PhD, CCC-SLP

The Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN) announced that its next webinar in it MyCP Webinar series would be on the role of speech and language as predictors of participation for children with cerebral palsy (CP) on Tuesday, September 29, at 8 pm ET.  Kristen Allison, PhD, CCC-SLP, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, will discuss her research on this topic. Dr. Allison’s research was funded by the Research CP award sponsored by CP NOW in the fall of 2019.  The presentation will be approximately 20 minutes and followed by an open Q&A with Dr. Allison. The study, which includes children of all abilities with CP between the ages of four and 17 years-old, seeks to understand how language skills impact a child’s ability to participate in various activities.  Participation is a critical factor in quality of life and is an increasingly important patient reported outcome measure for many research efforts. Dr. Allison’s study was made available to participants in the CPRN Community Registry on MyCP in the spring of 2020. 

Interested participants need to register for the webinar to be sent instructions for joining.  Webinars will be recorded and posted for later viewing.  The MyCP Webinar series includes one presentation per month on different aspects of CPRN’s research studies.  Please join us!

A view over the vast dark blue Atlantic Ocean from high on the coast of Ireland with a blanket of grey clouds drifting above.

Cerebral Palsy Causes and Risk Factors – Part 1

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia — Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series on her journey with her son and cerebral palsy (CP). Author note: The is the view out over the Atlantic on Sunday as we climbed Knocknarea–the hill I pointed out in last week’s post.]

In coming to terms with our child’s CP diagnosis, we almost always ask the question why? This week I will write about cerebral palsy causes and risk factors. As we will see below, very often no specific cause is identified. This was the case with our son.

The term cause is self-explanatory. The term risk factor can be defined as any attribute, characteristic, or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury. Causes thus have a stronger relationship with CP than risk factors. Significant deprivation of oxygen to the infant’s brain, for example, is a cause of CP. Preterm birth is a risk factor but not a cause of CP—in other words, not every preterm baby is found to have CP. There are many possible causes of brain injury, including events before and during pregnancy, during birth, or in early infant life. Much is known about the causes and risk factors for CP, but much remains unknown as well. Depending on what you read, you may come across different lists of causes and risk factors for CP.

Causes of CP
Developing fetuses and infants (up to age two to three) can develop CP if they experience brain injury or disruptions in brain development caused by1:

  • Bleeding in the brain before, during, or after birth.
  • Infections of the brain, including meningitis or encephalitis.
  • Shock—a state in which organs and tissues do not receive adequate blood flow.
  • Traumatic brain injuries, such as from a serious car accident.
  • Seizures at birth or in the first month following birth.
  • Certain genetic conditions.

Risk factors for CP
Risk factors for CP include1:

  • Preterm birth and low birth weight. A typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Babies born before 37 weeks have a greater risk of having CP. The risk increases the earlier a baby is born and the lower the baby’s birth weight. Twins and other multiple-birth siblings are at particular risk because they tend to be born earlier and at lower birth weights.
  • Serious illness, stroke, or infection in the mother. CP is more common in children whose mothers:
    – Experience certain viral and bacterial infections and/or high fevers during pregnancy.
    – Have coagulation (clotting) disorders or experience blood clots during pregnancy.
    – Receive excessive exposure to harmful substances during pregnancy.
    – Have thyroid problems, seizure disorders, or other serious health concerns.
  • Serious illness, stroke, or infection in the baby. Infants who experience serious illnesses, strokes, or seizures around the time of birth are at greater risk of having CP. Such illnesses might include:
    – Severe jaundice. (Kernicterus is a rare kind of preventable brain damage that can happen in newborns with jaundice.)
    – Seizures during the first 48 hours after birth.
    – Infections of the brain, such as meningitis or encephalitis.
    – Strokes caused by broken or clogged blood vessels or abnormal blood cells.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications. For example, not enough nutrition through the placenta or a lack of oxygen during labor and birth. Incompatible blood types between mother and baby.
  • Genetic issues.

I will continue with part 2 next week.

1 Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare (2019) What Is Cerebral Palsy? [online].

A view of choppy waters with a windswept stretch of grasses, and hills in the distance under dark clouds in the fading sunlight

Defining Cerebral Palsy

[This post is the continuation of our Knowledge Translation Tuesday. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia — Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series on her journey with her son and cerebral palsy (CP).]

For a multitude of reasons, I believe it is very important for parents of young children and adolescents and adults with CP to fully understand the condition. I was that mom who didn’t understand my son’s diagnosis and therefore didn’t know how best to help him. My adult son now needs to have a good understanding to best help himself. When I was invited to write for CPRN to expand its knowledge translation objective, Paul (Gross) asked me to first write about SDR in adulthood because my son, Tommy had just undergone this procedure. Once I’d finished that series of posts, I debated whether it was best to work back to childhood or start from childhood. I was also conscious of recent data which showed that people who themselves have CP–adolescents/adults with CP are the biggest single group (58%) in MyCP. In the end, I decided to go back to the start and follow a logical sequence of subjects from childhood to adulthood. Issues in adulthood to some extent build on issues in childhood. It’s like the Wordsworth quotation “The Child is father of the Man.

Let’s start with the actual definition of CP. Over the years there has been much discussion of the definition of CP, and different definitions have been adopted and later discarded. The most recently adopted definition, published in 2007, is as follows:1

Cerebral palsy (CP) describes a group of permanent disorders of the development of movement and posture, causing activity limitation, that are attributed to non-progressive disturbances that occurred in the developing fetal or infant brain. The motor disorders of cerebral palsy are often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, perception, cognition, communication, and behavior, by epilepsy, and by secondary musculoskeletal problems.

(Here is a link to a table explaining each term in that definition.)

CP is a lifelong condition and there is currently no cure, nor is one imminent, but good management and treatment can help alleviate some or many of the effects of the brain injury. When the brain injury occurs is important. The consequences of a brain injury to a fetus developing in the womb are generally different from those of a brain injury sustained at birth, which in turn are different from those of a brain injury acquired during infancy. It is generally accepted that only brain injuries occurring before the age of two or three fit the definition of CP. A brain injury occurring after that age is called an acquired brain injury. This cutoff is due to the differences in brain maturity when the injury occurs. In my son’s case I’m not certain when his brain injury occurred–he was born after an uneventful pregnancy and delivery–most likely it occurred during pregnancy.

Returning to the definition of CP, although this definition is very useful, I’m not sure it sufficiently alerts us to the secondary conditions that may arise in adulthood. As O’Brien, Bass, and Rosenbloom (2009) explained, the definition was developed to be used in childhood—it was not intended to infer that progressive problems might not appear in adult life.2

(The photo is one I took yesterday evening at Rosses Point, Sligo, Ireland, where I live. Yeats had close connections with Sligo. The hill in the left background is Knocknarea at 1,073 ft. Tommy was very proud when he first climbed it as a child.)

1Rosenbaum P, Paneth N, Leviton A, Goldstein M, Bax M (2007) A report: the definition and classification of cerebral palsy April 2006. Dev Med Child Neurol 49 Suppl 2: 8–14.

2O’Brien G, Bass A, Rosenbloom L (2009) Cerebral palsy and aging. In: O’Brien G, Rosenbloom L, editors, Developmental Disability and Aging. London: Mac Keith Press, pp 39–52.

A golden-brown loaf of braided challah on a parchment paper covered tray resting atop the stovetop burners.

Adult SDR: update on my progress

This is the last in a series of blog posts on selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) in adulthood as part of Knowledge Translation Tuesday (KTT). Tommy Collison wrote this update at the recent five months post-op point. KTT will continue on CPRN on September 8, 2020.

Quickfire round:

Adult SDR: update on my progress

Challah Bread

  • Broadly, everything is great — zero complaints, except that gyms/pools/physical therapists are closed.
  • Generally feeling pretty solid on my feet. I had a fall a few weeks ago, but no ill-effects beyond some scrapes to my hand. I’ve been testing my standing endurance by cooking more — to the right is a pic of some challah I made last weekend. (Had the wrong kind of flour, it didn’t turn out just right. Reattempting right now with the correct flour: writing while it proves.)
  • I think it’s still a little bit early to try and guess at effects of the surgery, especially since it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison of my life pre- and post-surgery, but some things I’ve noticed:
    • More flexibility than before in certain muscles: imagine sitting on a chair and bringing your heel up onto the chair, as if you’re putting on a sock. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to do that before.
    • General fatigue — this is the one I’m really excited about. Before surgery, if I had a big/ long day (gym → work for 8-10 hours → dinner with friends → home), I would feel it in my legs. Not pain so much as a… heaviness. Just a dog-tiredness. Not sure the right phrasing. I think that’s lessened or gone now. Yesterday, I hung out with friends in the backyard, went for a 6 mile cycle, and then walked downtown and back, getting back just after 10pm. I got into bed and it wasn’t the same sort of “whew, glad today is over” fatigue, where I feel grateful to be lying down and not having to do anything. There was general tiredness, but less muscle tiredness.

  • I’m staying down in Menlo Park, which is nice because it’s within walking distance (about a mile — 25 mins walk) to downtown, where I can get a takeaway coffee. I’ve had success with that sort of habit-stacking (need caffeine, also need to walk) and am walking downtown ~5 times a week.
  • Doing stretching and stretching in the interim. Probably not as much as I should, but PT and I are seeing progress, especially in the squats, and I’m sending her videos. Another interesting bit of progress: we used to practice sit-to-stands and they were SO difficult. The other day, I got out of a chair hands-free without thinking about it. Those little steps forward are so nice.

My Amazing Bike
  • Using two crutches + AFOs outside, and one crutch inside.
  • Got an AMAZING three-wheel bike that’s much safer, because three wheels mean that basically all balance considerations are taken care of. I have a nice 6 mile route that I’m doing 2-3 times a week, and I ordered a Peloton, so lots more cycling in my future.

Want to ask Tommy questions about his SDR? You can find him on the forum at https://cprn.org/ by posting a question with “Tommy” in the subject.

SDR surgery and early rehabilitation

This is the fourth of five in a series of blog posts on selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) in adulthood by Lily Collison — the inaugural author for Knowledge Translation Tuesday for the Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN).  You can comment and discuss the article with Lily on MyCP.org.

Today I will explain a little more about selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) and then describe Tommy’s experience of SDR and early rehabilitation.

SDR only reduces spasticity, not other types of high tone. Of the various tone-reducing treatments (oral medications, botulinum neurotoxin injection, phenol injection, intrathecal baclofen, and SDR), SDR is the only irreversible tone-reducing treatment. What do the three words –“selective dorsal rhizotomy” mean?

  • Selective: Only certain abnormal nerve rootlets are cut.
  • Dorsal: “Dorsal” refers to the sensory nerve rootlets–it the sensory nerve rootlets that are cut. (The sensory nerve rootlets are termed “dorsal” because they are located toward the back of the body. The motor nerve rootlets are termed “ventral” because they are toward the front.)
  • Rhizotomy: “Rhizo” means “root,” and “otomy” means “to cut into.”

Putting it all together, “selective dorsal rhizotomy” means that certain abnormal, dorsal nerve rootlets are cut. SDR is a major operation, and the better the rehabilitation, the better the outcome is likely to be. Just as the operation itself varies between institutions, different institutions have different rehabilitation protocols post-SDR. Typically patients undergo intensive physical therapy lasting approximately one year starting in the first days after surgery.

Tommy travelled to St. Paul on Wednesday February 5, 2020 for tests on Thursday followed by his SDR surgery on Friday. The plan was that he would spend four weeks in St. Paul for the initial intensive rehabilitation and then return to work/continue his rehabilitation back in San Francisco, where he lives. My husband and I travelled to St. Paul to support him there. Tommy was admitted on the morning of surgery and wasn’t unduly nervous. (He even pitched the idea of a career change to the anesthesiologist–“Hey come to Lambda School–lots of people are changing career and learning to code” [Tommy works at Lambda School, an online coding school] ?.)

There are two SDR techniques, the cauda and conus, named after the level of the spinal cord at which each procedure is performed. The choice of technique is provider-specific but also depends on the patient. The cauda technique was used in Tommy’s case. Dr. Kim (neurosurgeon) performed the surgery with Dr. Ward (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician) monitoring. The surgery involved removal of the back of the vertebrae (the lamina) in order to access the spinal cord. The dorsal nerve roots were dissected into rootlets, and the rootlets were individually electrically stimulated to determine whether they triggered a normal or abnormal (spastic) response. If a rootlet triggered an abnormal response, it was cut. If not, it was left alone. 30% of dorsal nerve rootlets from L2 to S1 were cut during Tommy’s six hour surgery.

For the first three days post-op, Tommy was confined to lying on his back to allow healing of the dura–the cover of the spinal cord. His pain level was manageable; he did have some stiffness in his back and some unusual sensations in his feet–numbness and hypersensitivity (likely due to the handling of nerve rootlets which would have caused temporary nerve damage). Wound healing progressed well. Three days post-op he was gradually brought to a sitting position and closely monitored for headache (to ensure that the dura was fully healed–no cerebrospinal fluid leakage). He received physical and occupational therapies as an in-patient. He wore knee immobilizers 50% of the time as per plan. He left hospital using a rented wheelchair four days post-op, a day earlier than scheduled. (Indeed, he was well enough to have dinner that evening in the restaurant of our hotel–a goal of Tommy’s.) Over the next three weeks, he attended twice daily out-patient physical therapy and did exercises at home. Posterior leaf-spring AFOs (PLOs) were prescribed and manufactured. During that time he progressed from using a wheelchair to walking with a walker and then to walking with two crutches. The altered sensations he felt in the immediate post-op period, diminished with time. Four weeks post-op (March 4th)–he returned home to San Francisco. Little did we know what was to unfold with COVID-19.

Here are some photos.

SDR surgery and early rehabilitation Day 4- Post op

Day 4 post-op: Leaving hospital.

Day 4 post-op: Leaving hospital.
Rough grey ocean waves crash against rocky brown-and-black cliffs under a grey misty sky.

Surgical decision-making

This is the third in a series of blog posts on selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) in adulthood by Lily Collison — the inaugural author for Knowledge Translation Tuesday for the Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN).  You can comment and discuss the article with Lily on MyCP.org.

We hear a lot about evidence-based medicine. Evidence-based medicine combines the best available external clinical evidence from research with the clinical expertise of the professional. When Tommy was undergoing Single Event Multi-Level Surgery (SEMLS) at age nine in 2004, there were a number of outcome studies from different international centers supporting SEMLS. These outcome studies together with the expertise clearly evident at Gillette, gave my husband and me the confidence to take our nine year old abroad for surgery. This year, sixteen years later–whilst there are a large number of studies from many centers supporting SDR in childhood (including long-term outcome studies)–there is a dearth of research evidence supporting SDR in adulthood. I could find just two studies from one center. Research conducted by CPRN has shown that 5% of individuals who underwent SDR, were aged over 18 years. There is a need for more outcome studies evaluating SDR in adulthood.

Decision-making for undergoing surgical procedures such as SEMLS and SDR is interesting. Parents of young children and later the adolescent and adult themselves are co-decision makers with the clinician in the medical process. We, Tommy’s parents, were largely the decision makers for Tommy’s SEMLS at age nine. (He and I clearly recall discussing the proposed surgery on a long car journey–he was happy to proceed if we felt it was the right thing to do.) The decision to proceed with SDR this year was totally Tommy’s. Whilst it’s easy to understand that parents largely make the decision for children undergoing procedures and adults make the decision for themselves, there is a “grey area” when it comes to adolescents. Thomason and Graham (2013) made the very interesting point that adolescents must be given the freedom to make their own informed decisions about surgery and rehabilitation. They added that an adolescent who feels they have been forced into surgery against their will or without their full consent is likely to be resentful and may develop depression and struggle with rehabilitation. I fully support this view.

For Tommy’s surgery this year, he asked if as a “fly on the wall”, I would accompany him to the multidisciplinary appointment to decide if he was a suitable SDR candidate. Watching from that vantage point, a few thoughts struck me:

  • The evaluation truly was multidisciplinary. The three consultants discussed the surgery in detail together and with Tommy–it was a robust four-way discussion. The clinicians’ decision, that Tommy was a good SDR candidate was unanimous.
  • I was happy to observe that Tommy fully understood what was involved. When the possibility of SDR was first raised, he told me that he read that section in my book and felt it explained SDR very clearly for him (positive endorsement–our offspring are often our harshest critics!) Tommy was making an informed decision to proceed with the surgery–he was an effective co–decision maker in the medical process.
  • The fact that Gillette offers continuity of care for individuals with CP–from childhood right through to adulthood–is hugely important. Tommy has been receiving care at Gillette since he was nine. This continuity of care has benefits on so many levels. It also makes “handing over the baton for healthcare management” from parent to adolescent, so much easier.
  • As a parent, changing role from being an active participant in the medical process, to being a “fly on the wall” (and only then by invitation), takes discipline, but is so worth it.

Thomason P, Graham HK (2013) Rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy after single-event multilevel surgery. In: Robert Iansek R, Morris ME, editors, Rehabilitation in Movement Disorders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 203–217.

Author note: The photo was taken off the northern Californian coast. It was also there that I took last week’s photo of pelicans flying in V-shaped formation. One of the goals of SDR surgery is to reduce the energy cost of walking. Flying in a V-shaped formation is one of the tricks birds use to reduce the energy cost of flying.

A squadron of pelicans fly in a ‘V’ formation under a cloudless blue sky.

The “ideal” candidate for SDR

This is the second in a series of blog posts on selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) in adulthood by guest author, Lily Collison.

Selection criteria for SDR differs between institutions. Characteristics of the “ideal” candidate for SDR at Gillette include:

  • Aged 4 to 7 years.
  • GMFCS level I–III.
  • Primarily spasticity (as opposed to dystonia) that interferes with function.
  • Preterm birth history or injury in the late second or early third trimester of pregnancy.
  • Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) confirmed by neuroimaging. (PVL is the brain injury that commonly results in the motor problems seen in spastic diplegia.)
  • Energy-inefficient gait.
  • Satisfactory muscle strength, generally defined as antigravity muscle strength at the hips and knees.
  • Fair or good selective motor control at the hips and knees. This means being able to partially isolate joint movement (not moving the joint in a complete pattern). This requires sufficient strength and motor control, i.e., not being reliant on increased spasticity for stability or movement.
  • Good ability to cooperate with rehabilitation.

Other than specific brain injury and age, Tommy met the selection criteria above. Tommy’s primary tone problem is spasticity (minimal dystonia) and the degree of spasticity was problematic for him. Though he does not have the classic brain injury (PVL), it was felt that his brain injury would behave similar to one, in causing spasticity. It would have been far more ideal had Tommy undergone SDR as a child. Tommy missed the opportunity to have it then, as we lived in Ireland and by the time I learned of SDR, he was already aged nine and needed orthopedic surgery to address the muscle and bone problems that had already developed. (Today, Irish children who meet defined selection criteria are able to access SDR in the United Kingdom.) SDR in childhood is better than in adulthood because the older the person, the longer they have been experiencing the negative effects of spasticity on their muscles. SDR in childhood is also better because rehabilitation after surgery (of any type) is more prolonged in adults than in children–adults heal more slowly than children.

Despite the above SDR in adulthood is still beneficial–it reduces the negative effects of spasticity on muscles over a person’s lifetime. Tommy is only 26 with a normal life expectancy. Apart from preserving his muscles, Tommy’s walking will hopefully become more energy efficient, which should translate into greater endurance in walking. Before SDR, his energy consumption in walking was 2.4 times normal. By one year post-op, it is hoped that this will have improved somewhat–it still won’t be normal (nor near normal) but any improvement is valuable. Although SDR is adulthood is beneficial, it is a big consideration. The most difficult short term challenges (i.e., following the surgery and during early rehabilitation) for independent adults following this type of surgery include loss of independence, loss of ability to care for others, and loss of income.

In the next post I’ll address surgical decision-making.

Lily Collison is author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy

The skyline of the tall buildings of a city under a blanket of clouds

Knowledge Translation Tuesday: SDR for Adults

River Shannon trail in Limerick, Ireland
River Shannon trail in Limerick, Ireland

(This post in first in a series of knowledge translation posts that will be provided by our new guest author, Lily Collison). I’m Lily, mother of Tommy who is now aged 26. Tommy grew up in Ireland, studied journalism at New York University, and now lives in San Francisco where he works at Lambda School (an online coding school). Tommy has spastic diplegia, GMFCS level II. I recently published Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy in conjunction with Gillette Children’s Healthcare Press. The book is a mixture of detailed medical information combined with a personal story, and all proceeds go to cerebral palsy (CP) research. I’m now going to be a guest author for the Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN).

In February of this year Tommy had selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, in Minnesota. SDR is a neurosurgical procedure that reduces spasticity by selectively cutting abnormal sensory nerve rootlets in the spinal cord. This procedure is mostly carried out in children and to a much smaller extent in adults. Recent research carried out by CPRN showed that 5% of those who have SDR were over 18 years. Tommy is therefore one of the minority of people who have SDR in adulthood. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write about SDR in adulthood and Tommy will also contribute (when he gets a break from working and rehabbing ?)

At this stage Tommy has a thick patient file at Gillette. At age nine he had single-event multilevel surgery (SEMLS) to address muscle and bone problems that had developed as he grew. At age sixteen he had orthopedic surgery to address knee pain, and at age eighteen a further minor orthopedic surgery. The possibility of SDR was first raised in Fall 2019, at a routine orthopedic appointment with Dr. Novacheck, Tommy’s orthopedic surgeon at Gillette for many years. A multi-disciplinary appointment was organized for December with consultants from neurosurgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), and orthopedics to evaluate Tommy’s suitability for SDR. The clinicians agreed that Tommy was a suitable candidate, and Tommy agreed to proceed with the surgery. SDR was carried out in February of this year, right before COVID caused widespread shutdown in March.

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Do you have questions for me about this post? I’m available on the MyCP.org forum (you will need to join MyCP if you are not a member) to discuss it.