Serious Complications Of Cerebral Palsy

September 16, 2023

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects an individual's posture, muscle tone, and movement. Most cases are caused by damage done to the brain before birth. Symptoms of this condition typically appear during infancy or toddler years. Examples of these symptoms include rigidity or floppiness of the trunk and limbs, involuntary movements, abnormal reflexes, unsteady walking, and abnormal posture. Cerebral palsy can be a systemic disorder, or it may only affect one side or limb in the body. While certain symptoms may become more apparent with age, the underlying cause is not progressive.

Thankfully, there are several cerebral palsy treatment options out there. Patients may need medication for cerebral palsy, including oral muscle relaxants and nerve or muscle injections. Physical therapy for cerebral palsy is also common, as is occupational therapy and speech therapy. Some individuals may need surgery for cerebral palsy as well. Of course, some may need a stander for cerebral palsy or a cerebral palsy walking device. In the end, though, cerebral palsy also has a variety of complications attached to it. Learn about these now.


Cerebral palsy patients may experience malnutrition as a complication. Malnutrition is a condition where an individual does not receive the proper amount of nutrition. One of the leading causes of malnutrition in individuals with cerebral palsy is called dysphagia or oral-motor dysfunction. A healthy individual has muscles coordinated to transfer food from their mouth to their esophagus and down into their stomach. Cerebral palsy patients can experience dysfunction in these muscles, which can cause them to have difficulty breathing, talking, and swallowing.

Other factors can also play into the development of malnutrition in this disorder. It may be harder for an individual to consume adequate nutrition and calories when they cannot hold their utensils and physically feed themselves. Another aspect that complicates the sufficient consumption of food in cerebral palsy patients is gastrointestinal issues. Acid reflux, stomach ulcers, and heartburn are common and make eating uncomfortable or painful.

Premature Aging

Premature aging may be seen in cerebral palsy patients as they approach their fourth decade of life. This is a condition where signs of aging emerge in an individual before they actually reach old age. The bodies of cerebral palsy patients go through excess stress and strain to complete day-to-day activities and tasks. These patients are known to burn up to five times as much energy as a healthy person does simply by walking and moving around.

Premature aging in patients with this condition can be confusing because some see it as a worsening of the disorder. However, premature aging due to a disorder is different from the progressive worsening of a condition. Premature aging is simply the result of the toll the patient's disability has taken on their body and mind over many years. Symptoms of premature aging in individuals with cerebral palsy include increased overall pain, frequent falls, increased susceptibility to adverse side effects of surgery and medication, stiff muscles, difficulty walking, and dental health issues.


Cerebral palsy patients may develop contracture as a complication. This is a deformity that occurs when the connective tissues of an individual's body constrict and become stiff. Tissues that can be affected by contracture include joint capsules, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and skin. This complication can manifest as difficulty stretching the legs, moving the hands, and straightening the fingers.

There are several ways cerebral palsy can cause patients to experience this complication. The muscle of individuals with this disorder is structurally altered with fibers that have a small diameter, reduced muscle body size, and overly stretched sarcomeres. In addition, their muscle tissue has an abnormal arrangement of connective tissue and an altered extracellular matrix. Most of these abnormalities are caused by altered gene expression and a deficiency of muscle stem cells.


An individual with cerebral palsy may develop osteoarthritis due to their disorder. Osteoarthritis is a condition where the cartilage in a joint that protects the bones becomes eroded over time. This causes stiffness and pain in the affected joint. An individual with cerebral palsy is at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis because of the abnormalities in the musculoskeletal system the disorder causes. Muscle imbalance is a common characteristic seen in these patients. It can cause the abnormal and unusual movement of one or more joints in the body.

A combination of the overuse of joints, compression in joints, unusual movements in the joints, and excessive wear on the cartilage in the joints are what cause a cerebral palsy patient to develop this condition. Symptoms in individuals with cerebral palsy precipitated osteoarthritis include pain with joint movement, joint tenderness, and a grating feeling in the joint upon movement. Others are joint stiffness, the inability to move the joint through its full range, and hard lumps felt around the affected joint.

Heart And Lung Disease

An individual who has cerebral palsy is more likely to develop heart and lung disease alongside their disorder. The most common forms of heart and lung disease seen in these patients include ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and asthma. Two others are stroke and hypertensive heart disease. Patients who experience oral motor dysfunction because of their cerebral palsy are at an increased risk of developing lung disease for several reasons. This includes bronchiolitis, aspiration, pneumonia, and respiratory distress syndrome.

Cerebral palsy can cause an affected individual to have a spinal or chest wall deformity that can lead to limited lung function. The increased risk of developing heart disease is attributed to the fact that cerebral palsy is a movement disorder that causes a sedentary lifestyle. This type of lifestyle leads to the development of obesity and hypertension. These are two of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease, which is amplified if the affected individual also happens to smoke.


Individuals with cerebral palsy often deal with osteopenia as a complication of their condition. Osteopenia is a condition in which individuals have low bone density. This complication puts individuals at a higher risk of experiencing fractures, since their bones are weaker. Cerebral palsy has osteopenia as a complication for several reasons. One of them is deficiencies in nutrients, and another is a lack of mobility. Nutrients, particularly calcium, are essential for bone strength.

Lacking in them, therefore, reduces the strength of an individual's bones. Staying mobile is another method of increasing bone strength, so it stands to reason that a lack of mobility, which is common in cerebral palsy, can trigger osteopenia. Finally, patients with cerebral palsy often take anti-epileptic medication, which can also increase the risk of osteopenia as a complication.

Depression And Anxiety

Unfortunately, many patients with this disorder will struggle with their mental health. Depression and anxiety are especially common complications. This condition can result in social isolation, which is a major risk factor for depression. In addition, dealing with a disability like cerebral palsy is also mentally and physically challenging, which heightens mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Individuals with cerebral palsy who are dealing with depression or anxiety need to manage them. Good options include medication and mindfulness. Therapy is also incredibly common. Cerebral palsy support groups can be helpful for individuals experiencing depression and anxiety due to their condition as well.


Scoliosis, a sideways curve to the spine, can also appear as a complication of cerebral palsy. This is because these patients can deal with muscle tone issues, including high or low muscle tone. It is low muscle tone in the core that can make it challenging for affected children to remain balanced and sit upright. When this happens, children often lean to one side regularly, which can cause scoliosis to develop. In addition, high muscle tone may also result in children with cerebral palsy holding abnormal postures. Unfortunately, this can trigger scoliosis when the body becomes used to a consistently abnormal posture.

Chronic Pain

Research indicates that up to seventy-five percent of individuals with cerebral palsy will deal with chronic pain as a complication. Despite how common chronic pain is as a complication, though, it is an understudied physical aspect of this condition. Chronic pain in cerebral palsy patients often appears in the lower portion of the body. Specifically, chronic pain develops in the feet, ankles, knees, lower back, and hips. Although this complication in cerebral palsy is not well understood, information suggests that elevated cortisol, the stress hormone, can indicate chronic pain in affected patients. Functional magnetic resonance imaging may also help doctors detect this chronic pain in affected individuals.

Speech Problems

Unfortunately, speech problems are a common complication seen in individuals with cerebral palsy. A study from 2012 indicated that speech issues affect over half of children with this condition. Patients develop speech problems in cerebral palsy because many of them find it quite challenging to control many of the muscles in their head, neck, face, and throat. Some of the muscles in these areas make it harder for patients to speak clearly and smoothly. It can make them drool excessively as well. Thus, cerebral palsy patients will often require speech therapy to help strengthen these muscles and improve their overall speech quality.

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