Cerebral Palsy: How Physiotherapy can help

30 Sep, 2019

What is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

  • Caused by a brain injury or brain malformation that occurs before, during or after birth
  • It is still unknown as to why this occurs, there is no single cause
  • This can affect muscular control, coordination, balance, posture
  • As well as fine motor skills, gross motor skills and speech
  • Generally, symptoms do not worsen over time
  • It is a permanent, life-long condition with no known cure


  • Every 15 hours, a child is born with CP
  • There are approximately 34,000 people currently living with CP in Australia
  • 1 in 700 babies are diagnosed with CP worldwide

What are the risk factors?

Some issues/events during pregnancy that may increase risk for cerebral palsy include (but are not limited to):

  • Low birth weight or preterm birth
  • Multiple gestations
  • Infertility treatments
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Exposure to toxic materials

How is it diagnosed?

  • Developmental monitoring: tracking a child’s growth and development over time
  • Developmental screening: looking at possible developmental delays such as motor or movement delays – conducted through a test known as a General Movements Assessment (GMA)
Cerebral Palsy


  1. Spastic (70-80%): most common type of CP. Causes stiffness/tightness of the muscles.
  2. Dyskinetic (Athetoid) (6%): defined as ‘uncontrolled movements.’ Causes erratic body movements.
  3. Ataxic (6%): least common type of CP. Ataxia is defined as a loss of balance and coordination. Can present as unsteady or shaky movements known as tremors.
  4. Mixed: combination of the above types of CP

In addition to these symptoms, some individuals with CP may experience hearing, sight or speech disorders, epilepsy, incontinence, or an intellectual disability. Approximately 30-50% of individuals with CP will have an intellectual disability.

A Physiotherapist’s role:

  • Education on CP e.g. recent evidence-based treatment, support networks and services available
  • Constraint – Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT): involves restraining stronger limb to allow weaker limb to complete regular functional activities and develop neuromotor changes
  • Gait retraining
  • Pain management – through stretching and remedial massage
  • Neuro-developmental training (NDT)
  • Passive stretching
  • Resistance exercises + strengthening for upper/lower limbs and improve cardiovascular endurance
  • Functional + goal-directed training to assist in improving quality of life and independence
  • Hydrotherapy

Other relevant interventions from other allied health professions include:

  • Occupational therapy: for optimising upper limb function, improving activities of daily living such as dressing, going to school and socialising in the community. Can also assist with necessary equipment for mobility, movement etc.
  • Speech pathology : Can assist with any speech disorders, swallowing difficulties and learn new ways of communication e.g. communication devices or a communication board
  • Exercise physiology: Can help with creating a strength and conditioning program targeting upper and lower limbs to improve movement and mobility
  • Podiatry: can assist with gait abnormalities, fitting of AFO’s and orthopaedic footwear

At Gen Physio, we have Physiotherapists who have high interest in treating Cerebral Palsy and other Paediatric related conditions. To find out more please call 1300 122 884. Our friendly Support team will match you with the most suitable therapist to treat your child.

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