Cerebral palsy is caused by irreversible brain damage that can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as stiff muscles, contractures, and involuntary movements. Thankfully, cerebral palsy patients can manage their pain with a variety of treatments. Learn more about cerebral palsy pain management.
Is Cerebral Palsy Painful?
It depends. No two cases of cerebral palsy are exactly the same. Some children may experience little to no pain, whereas others may require medical treatment to manage painful symptoms.
According to a 2020 study from BMC Neurology involving 3,545 children and adolescents with cerebral palsy, 42.5% of patients reported experiencing some type of pain.
Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage to certain regions of the brain, resulting in different types of cerebral palsy. Each type of cerebral palsy can bring a variety of different – and sometimes painful – symptoms.
The types of cerebral palsy are characterized by which parts of the brain were damaged and how they affect the child’s movement. For example, spastic cerebral palsy and athetoid cerebral palsy patients may experience permanently tightened muscles and suffer from pain in the legs, arms, shoulders, hips, neck, and back.
Ataxic cerebral palsy patients may develop pain in similar areas due to their poor posture and balance skills.
Cerebral palsy patients may also be at higher risk of headaches, dental problems, and gastrointestinal issues that can cause pain.
A 2020 study examined pain levels of cerebral palsy patients from ages 4 to 18 and found:
- About two-thirds of patients said their pain affected the performance of daily activities
- Female patients had a higher risk of experiencing cerebral palsy pain
- Patients with poor Gross Motor Function Classification System scores (which tests overall mobility) had a higher risk of pain
- The feet and lower leg area was the most common region for pain, followed by the hip and thigh area
Pain can greatly affect a child’s independence and overall development. According to the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, children with chronic cerebral palsy pain may show poor performance in school compared to those without.
Does Cerebral Palsy Pain Worsen With Age?
While some children do not experience pain alongside their cerebral palsy symptoms, many patients experience cerebral palsy pain when they reach adulthood.
Around 75% of adults with cerebral palsy experience chronic pain according to the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine.
Chronic cerebral palsy pain can cause adults to experience a decreased quality of life and overall independence. It is also noted that cerebral palsy pain can lead to issues with walking.
Treatment for Painful Cerebral Palsy Symptoms
Cerebral palsy pain can greatly impact a child or adult’s every day routine. Thankfully, there are several ways patients can manage symptoms and prevent chronic cerebral palsy pain.
Treatment for cerebral palsy pain focuses heavily on relieving painful symptoms and helping the patient regain movement of the body.
Some treatment methods for cerebral palsy pain include:
- Exercise: Daily exercise can help maintain muscle strength and flexibility to prevent spasticity
- Medication: Severe pain can be eased with baclofen (muscle relaxer), ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, opioids, and more
- Physical therapy: Professional therapists can help children improve overall mobility to prevent pain
- Surgery: Often used as a last resort for severe pain, surgery can help loosen extremely tightened muscles and joints for pain relief
It is important to always consult with your child’s specialist to what treatments will be best to relieve your child’s pain.
How to Tell if Your Child is in Pain
Parents should ask children with cerebral palsy if they’re having any pain so treatment can be sought to ease symptoms.
If your child is too young or unable to communicate, there are several signs they may show to signal they are in pain.
Signs your child may be experiencing cerebral palsy pain include:
- Decreased overall activity levels
- Decreased sleep
- Increased irritability
If your child is showing signs of discomfort, be sure to contact their cerebral palsy specialist or pediatrician. The sooner you tell a medical professional, the sooner your child’s pain can be relieved.
Staying on top of physical therapy, medications, and other treatment options may help your child manage their chronic pain into adulthood and live a long, happy, independent life.