Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

Cerebral palsy: what parents and doctors want to know

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 03 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:970
  1. Peter Rosenbaum, professor of paediatrics (
  1. CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada L8S 1C7
  • Accepted 6 March 2003

Cerebral palsy is a physical impairment that affects the development of movement. Impairment can vary considerably and no two people with cerebral palsy are affected in exactly the same way. The problems that children and adults with cerebral palsy face, including discrimination, are often similar

Cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability in childhood. Children with cerebral palsy usually survive into adulthood, and the condition is often poorly understood in adulthood. Recognising and managing cerebral palsy's many important comorbidities is as important as treating the motor disabilities. Recent advances in the understanding of cerebral palsy include new ways of thinking about disability; recognition of causal pathways; and improvements in measurement, classification, and prognostication. Challenges include ensuring the wellbeing of families as well as children; tackling the issues faced lifelong by people with cerebral palsy; and the continuing need for primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of the effects of cerebral palsy on people's lives.

Summary points

Cerebral palsies are neurodevelopmental conditions, are the commonest “physical” disabilities in childhood, and severely affect a child's development

Comorbidities include epilepsy, learning difficulties, behavioural challenges, and sensory impairments and are at least as important as the motor disabilities

Advances in research are increasing our understanding of causal pathways, opportunities for primary prevention, and the value of specific intervention strategies

Cerebral palsy cannot be cured, but a host of interventions can improve functional abilities, participation, and quality of life

These conditions need to be recognised as involving the whole family, and management should always occur in the context of family needs, values, and abilities

The needs of adults with cerebral palsy, who currently are underemployed and face major barriers in the community, must now be tackled

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is “an umbrella term covering a group of non-progressive, but often changing, motor impairment syndromes secondary to lesions or …

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