Cerebral palsy (CP) is a lifelong non-progressive neurological condition affecting a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. It’s the most common diagnosis causing motor disability in childhood and usually arises as a result of a combination of events either before, during or after birth.

  1. What causes CP?
  2. Is CP a progressive disease?
  3. How does CP affect people?
  4. What are the three main types of cerebral palsy?
  5. Can a child with CP live a normal life?
  6. How long can you live with CP?

What causes CP?

CP is caused by an abnormal development of the brain or damage to the developing brain before the age of 2 years. Around 1 in approximately 500 children has CP. It’s a condition affecting the child’s ability to move, maintain balance and posture, communicate, eat, sleep and learn. CP usually arises from a sequence of events that can cause injury to the developing brain. 

Prematurity is the highest risk factor for CP, but it is not necessarily the premature birth itself that causes CP, but rather a consequence of events that leads to the premature birth that may result in a CP diagnosis. This can be events happening in the uterus while the mother is pregnant.

The specific cause of CP is in most children unknown, but known risk factors that may increase the likelihood of a child being born with CP is:

  • Premature birth 
  • Low birth weight
  • Being born a twin or other multiple birth
  • Thrombophilia
  • Little oxygen and nutrients to the fetus from the placenta 
  • Infection of the mother in early pregnancy
  • Prolonged loss of oxygen during birth
  • Severe jaundice shortly after birth 

Is CP a progressive disease?

CP is defined as a non-progressive, but permanent disease. This means that the brain injury will not produce further degeneration of the brain. When that is said, the symptoms of the brain injury might change during lifetime, which means the child will to a certain degree be able to improve functions, but the child or young adult might also experience reduced motor function during life. 

How does CP affect people?

CP is a condition affecting the person's ability to move, maintain balance and posture, communicate, eat, sleep and learn.

The level of severity, and combination of symptoms, differ from person to person, depending on the brain injury. Some might only have small symptomes like a weak hand affecting the ability to write and handle objects. While others might have a severe injury affecting most of the body expressed by little ability to move independently and are in need of 24 hours assistance. 

The most typically symptoms in CP are:

  • Disturbed muscle tone
  • Poor muscle control
  • Disturbed voluntary movements
  • Delayed development
  • Asymmetric development 
  • Feeding or swallowing difficulties
  • Difficulties related to bladder and bowel control


Read also: Why 24-hour posture care management is key. 

What are the three main types of cerebral palsy?

The three main types of CP are:

  • Spastic
  • Dyskinetic 
  • Ataxic


Spastic CP is the most common form of CP and occurs in approximately 80% of individuals and is due to damage to the motor cortex. It’s characterised by increased muscle tone, which results in stiff muscles affecting the ability to move from one position to another , controlling muscles needed to perform tasks, ex. holding on to an object, speaking etc. Spastic CP is devided into two subgroups: 

  • Bilateral CP = both sides of the body is affected
  • Unilateral CP = one side of the body is affected 

Dyskinetic CP occurs in approximately 6% of individuals and is due to damage in the basal ganglia. It’s characterised by involuntary movement, meaning it’s outside of their control. The movements can be twisting and repetitive movements (dystonia) or slow movements (athetosis) or unpredictable movements (chorea). 

Ataxic CP occurs in approximately 6% of individuals and is due to damage in the cerebellum. It is characterised by shaky movements or tremor, difficulties maintaining balance and lack of coordination. 

The severity of motor function in cerebral palsy is classified by the use of:

  • Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) - gross motor skills
  • Manual Ability Classification System (MACS) - fine motor skills

The Gross motor function classification system (GMFCS), describes motor performance into 5 different levels:


Read also: What is GMFCS, and why is it used?

The Manual ability classification system (MACS) describes how children with CP use their hands to handle objects during daily activities like eating, dressing, writing and playing. 

Can a child with CP live a normal life?

If you have a child with CP you might have asked yourself what the future holds for your child and what your child’s life will be like. Although adjustments might be needed, you and your child can enjoy life. Your child might have limitations related to mobility, communication and transfer, but today there is a great variety of assistive devices available to accommodate this and facilitate independence, activity and participation. Some with more severe limitations might be in need to be cared for throughout life by family and caregiver support. 

Read also: Which product suits my child?

How long can you live with CP?

There has been no general studies of life expectancy in people with CP, but most people with CP live between 30-70 years.
Life expectancy varies with severity and co-existing medical issues, such as respiratory disorders. People with light physical disabilities have life spans close to the average population. As the severity of impairment increases the child's life expectancy decreases. People with severe disabilities might experience premature aging, weak immune system and poor cognitive function. With adapted treatment and quality care, quality of life is influenced and it can improve life expectancy.

What is CP

Rikke Damkjær Moen - Physiotherapist and Medical Manager

Rikke Damkjær Moen - Physiotherapist and Medical Manager

Rikke Damkjær Moen brings many years of experience as clinical physiotherapist to the Made for Movement team. Her mission is to ensure that everybody, regardless of mobility problems, should be able to experience the joy and health benefits of physical activity. As our Medical Manager, Rikke is passionate about sharing knowledge so that individuals with special needs, families, and clinicians can discover the possibilities and solutions provided by Made for Movement.