Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a general term used to describe a group of disorders that affect the normal development of movement and posture. CP is caused by an injury to the brain—such as infection, stroke, trauma, or the loss of oxygen to the brain—that occur before, during, or after birth or within the first 2 years of life. The injury to the brain is “nonprogressive,” meaning that it does not get worse after the initial injury. However, the day-to-day activities that can be affected by the injury during an individual’s childhood can worsen throughout the individual’s life.
Difficulties from CP can range from mild to severe. Individuals with CP may have trouble seeing, hearing, feeling touch, thinking, or communicating. They may also experience seizures.
CP affects approximately 3.6 infants per each 1,000 born in the United States. The number of children diagnosed with CP has grown in recent years as a result of the increased survival rates of premature babies and those born with low birth weights. The average life expectancy of adults with CP has increased as well. People with CP can benefit from Physical and Occupational Therapy throughout all the stages of their lives.
Physical therapists are experts in helping people with CP improve their physical functions. They can help them stay active, and healthy, and perform day-to-day tasks such as walking, operating a wheelchair, and getting in or out of a wheelchair to and from a bathtub, bed, or car.
Spina bifida is a birth defect involving the spine that occurs when a baby’s “neural tube,” or fetal spinal cord, does not completely close in the early stages of development during the first month of a mother’s pregnancy. When the neural tube does not close, the bones of the spine that protect the spinal cord do not form as they should. Spina bifida can occur anywhere along the spine, and often results in damage to the spinal cord and surrounding nerves.
Spina bifida may cause both physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. The severity of disability depends on the size and location of the opening in the spine, and the extent to which the spinal cord and nerves are affected.
- Babies born with spina bifida often cannot move their legs due to weakness or paralysis resulting from spinal cord and nerve damage.
- People with spina bifida may have problems controlling their bowel and bladder, skin problems, orthopedic concerns, learning disabilities, problems with attention, or other neurological complications.
The physical therapist is an important partner in health care and fitness for anyone diagnosed with spina bifida. Physical therapists help children and adults with spina bifida gain and maintain mobility, and function at their best throughout all stages of life. The physical therapist will also work with other health care professionals, such as orthopedists and occupational therapists, to address each individual’s needs as treatment priorities shift.