Cerebral palsy is a common childhood disorder; it comes in various types manifesting varying degrees of severity. One of the many types of the disorder is hypertonic cerebral palsy, also known as spastic cerebral palsy.
What is Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy?
Hypertonic, or spastic cerebral palsy is marked by stiff muscles that occur due to damage in areas of the brain that control muscle movement. The involved muscles are tight and are referred to as spastic or hypertonic. This is the most common type of cerebral palsy and can cause difficulty walking or controlling movements of the body.
Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy Causes
There are a number of different events that can cause or contribute to the development of hypertonic cerebral palsy, including:
- Maternal or neonatal infections
- Preeclampsia or maternal hypertension
- Extreme prematurity and low birth weight
- Fetal or neonatal stroke
- A difficult and prolonged labor and delivery
- Medical mistakes and negligence, such as failing to carry out an emergency C-section when indicated, failing to address maternal medical conditions or infections
- Certain medications or illicit drugs taken while pregnant
Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Not every child will exhibit the same signs and symptoms of hypertonic cerebral palsy, but in general, the most common symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle contractions
- Stiff, rigid muscles
- Widened gait, scissor-like walking
Some children may have associated conditions such as:
- Speech/swallowing problems
- Joint contractures
- Learning or cognitive disabilities
- Constipation or bladder incontinence
- Respiratory difficulties
- Hearing or vision problems
How is Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy Treated?
Physical therapy is highly recommended for children with hypertonic cerebral palsy. Therapists can create a customized program for your child to help with balance, coordination, and muscle lengthening and strengthening. In addition, occupational and speech/language therapy may be used to address specific issues and assist with function.
Many children with hypertonic cerebral palsy take medications that help with muscle stiffness and rigidness, as well as other symptoms associated with the condition.
The most commonly-prescribed medications may include:
- Baclofen or other muscle relaxants
- Sleep enhancers
- Behavior-related medicines
- Gastric reflux or constipation aids
- Respiratory medicines
For severe cases of muscle stiffness and rigidity, surgery may be a treatment option, but usually after all other options have been exhausted. Procedures for tendon-lengthening, repair of scoliosis or joint contractures can significantly impact your child’s ability to function independently and with comfort. Your physician will be able to give you information on surgical options, including which type will work best for your child’s individualized needs.
Long-term Outlook for Children with Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy
As with all forms of cerebral palsy, the long-term prognosis of children with hypertonic cerebral palsy will depend on how severe the disorder is, in addition to how well the child responds to treatment. However, most children will go on to live productive lives, especially when an individualized treatment plan is in place. Although your child will live with cerebral palsy indefinitely, today’s treatment modalities aim to keep symptoms and pain under control.
Remember, if you have any questions or concerns regarding hypertonic (spastic) cerebral palsy, reach out to your child’s physician.