The term cerebral palsy (CP) refers to several types of movement disorders that are caused by an early brain injury or disturbance in neurological development. The symptoms of CP impact people differently, including the parts of the body that are affected, and to what degree.

The term cerebral palsy offers little information about what daily challenges a person faces. It also does not offer clarity about the types of treatments that may or may not be helpful.

This is important information to consider when interacting with people, sometimes professionals, who are less familiar with CP.

Having a thorough assessment and understanding which movement disorders are present and how they affect the way the individual moves, feels and coordinates movement, is imperative to determining which treatments are likely to be most successful.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

Types of Cerebral PalsyTypes of Cerebral Palsy

The type of CP may refer to abnormal muscle tone (the amount of background activity and tension in a muscle), involuntary movements or both. There may also be other conditions and symptoms beyond movement and coordination that interfere with the individual’s daily activities. These may include epilepsy, sensory impairments (vision, hearing and/or communication), difficulty eating and swallowing, and more.

These following types of cerebral palsy highlight the primary movement or muscle tone disorder interfering with the individual’s motor control and function:

  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy
    • The majority of individuals with CP have the spastic form (approximately 85 percent). In spastic CP the individual has abnormal muscle tone and the muscles are stiff, making movement difficult. The graphic to the right illustrates common areas where an individual’s body may be affected by spasticity-also known as topography.
    • In people with diplegia mostly the lower half of the body is affected.
    • In people with hemiplegia mostly one side of the body is affected.
    • And in people with quadriplegia, all four limbs are affected and the muscles of the trunk, face and mouth may also be affected.
    • Increasingly more researchers and clinicians have begin using the terms bilateral CP (affecting both sides of the body) and unilateral CP (affecting one side of the body) to replace diplegia, hemiplegia and quadriplegia. the terms you hear will depend on the the preferences of the professionals.
  • Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
    • About 10 to 20 percent have this form of CP. Dyskinetic CP is an umbrella term characterized by three different types of involuntary movements including dystonic, athetoid, and choreic. A person with dyskinetic CP may have one or more of these types of involuntary movements.
      • Dystonia-intermittent or lengthy muscle contractions that cause twisting and repetitive movement sequences, abnormal posture or both. The movement patters are often triggered by attempts at voluntary movement.
      • Athetosis-slow, continuous, involuntary twisting movements that prevent stable posture
      • Chorea-a sequence of one more more involuntary movements that are abrupt and appear irregular. Unlike dystonic movements, choreiform movements look more rapid, unpredictable and ongoing. Choreic movements may appear to flow randomly from one muscle group to another amy involve the trunk, neck, face, tongue, legs and arms. they may also occur with athetosis, referred to as choreoathetosis, or they may occur with dystonic movements. Choreic movements subside during sleep.
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
    • About 1 to 10 percent of people with CP have the ataxic form. People with ataxic CP may have challenges with balance, depth perception and coordination. It is often characterized by wobbly or shaky purposeful movements (occurring with the intention to move), difficulty with muscles overshooting or undershooting to meet a specific target, and may also involve difficulty coordinating precise finger movements for fine motor skills such as writing or using utensils.
  • Mixed Cerebral Palsy
    • When a person show signs of more than one of the previous three forms of CP during evaluations, they can be diagnosed with mixed cerebral palsy . The most common mixed form includes spastic CP and dyskinetic  CP movements, but other combinations are also possible.

The information from this page appears in our free and downloadable cerebral palsy tool kit.