Classification of cerebral palsy types
The classification of cerebral palsy depends on the parts of the brain that are affected as well as the movement issues that are involved. Generally, cerebral palsy is broken down into several different types to describe how brain damage has affected overall motor skills.
The type of movement issues an individual with cerebral palsy experiences can depend on how severely their brain injury has affected muscle tone. Muscle tone is the strength and tension of the muscles.
Detecting movement issues in children early on is crucial, even if they seem minor at first. This is because cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that usually requires special care. While there is no cure for CP, getting treatment early can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
Remember, cerebral palsy sometimes goes undiagnosed for months or even years after a child is born. If you suspect your child has any of the types of cerebral palsy, talk to one of our nurses in confidence.
Cerebral palsy types
Learning about cerebral palsy types can help parents and caregivers get a better understanding of their child's condition. This can be especially helpful for managing CP symptoms to provide the best possible care.
Common symptoms of cerebral palsy include muscle stiffness, dystonia (involuntary muscle contracting), a scissoring gait (when knees press together while walking), and drooling.
However, each of the types of cerebral palsy brings its own set of challenges and symptoms.
What are the different types of cerebral palsy?
There are five major types of cerebral palsy: spastic, athetoid (dyskinetic), ataxic, hypotonic, and mixed type.
The chart below shows how common each type is.
Spastic cerebral palsy
- 77% of all cases
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form, accounting for 77% of cases. Also referred to as hypertonic cerebral palsy, most individuals with this type experience high muscle tone and exaggerated, jerky movements (spasticity).
Spastic CP is caused by damage to the brain’s motor cortex, which controls voluntary movement. It is also caused by damage to the pyramidal tracts, which help relay signals to the muscles. For this reason, this type of cerebral palsy is sometimes referred to as “pyramidal.”
The motor cortex is found on both sides of the brain, and the pyramidal tracts connect each side of the motor cortex to one another. Damage to the right side of the motor cortex causes movement problems on the left side of the body and vice versa.
Common symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy include:
- Awkward reflexes
- Contractures (permanently tightened muscles or joints)
- Difficulty walking
- Stiff muscles in one or more parts of the body
Although spastic CP is the most common form, it is not necessarily the easiest to manage. The damage to specific brain areas and the resulting effects on muscle tone and movement can be significant. This can mean a lifetime of unplanned medical expenses.
If you suspect your child’s CP was caused by a mistake during childbirth, we may be able to help you access financial aid to cover the costs of caring for your child.
Get a legal consultation in confidence right now — there is no cost or obligation.
Athetoid (dyskinetic) cerebral palsy
- 2.6% of all cases
About 2.6% of children with this condition are diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy (also known as non-spastic or dyskinetic cerebral palsy). Athetoid CP includes choreoathetoid and dystonic cerebral palsies. These types of cerebral palsy cause issues with involuntary movement in the face, torso, and limbs.
Athetoid cerebral palsy is characterized by a combination of hypotonia (loosened muscles) and hypertonia (stiffened muscles), which causes muscle tone to fluctuate.
This type of cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain’s basal ganglia and/or cerebellum. The basal ganglia regulate voluntary motor function and eye movement, and the cerebellum controls balance and coordination.
Athetoid cerebral palsy is considered extrapyramidal. The extrapyramidal tracts in the brain regulate involuntary reflexes and movement signaled by the basal ganglia and cerebellum.
Common symptoms of athetoid cerebral palsy include:
- Feeding issues
- Floppiness in the limbs
- Problems with posture
- Stiff or rigid body
Ataxic cerebral palsy
- 2.4% of all cases
Ataxic cerebral palsy makes up about 2.4% of all cases of cerebral palsy. This type of cerebral palsy causes issues with balance, coordination, and voluntary movement (ataxia).
Ataxic cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the cerebellum, which is responsible for coordinating physical movement. Individuals with ataxic cerebral palsy often experience tremors and reduced muscle tone.
Common symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy include:
- Poor coordination
- Problems with depth perception
- Shakiness and tremors
- Speech difficulties
- Spreading feet apart when walking
Hypotonic cerebral palsy
- 2.6% of all cases
Hypotonic cerebral palsy (also known as atonic cerebral palsy) makes up about 2.6% of all cases. This cerebral palsy type is classified by low muscle tone that causes loss of strength and firmness, resulting in floppy muscles.
Instability and floppiness in muscles can cause a child to miss developmental milestones such as crawling, standing, or walking.
Common symptoms of hypotonic cerebral palsy include:
- Flexible joints and ligaments
- Lack of head control
- Loose muscles
- Poor balance and stability
Mixed type cerebral palsy
- 15.4% of all cases
In some cases, damage to the developing brain is not confined to one location. When that happens, a child can develop more than one of the types of cerebral palsy, which is called mixed type cerebral palsy.
“Some people have symptoms of more than one type of CP. The most common type of mixed CP is spastic-dyskinetic CP.”
Mixed type cerebral palsy occurs when a child is showing symptoms of two or more types of cerebral palsy. About 15.4% of all cases are diagnosed as mixed type cerebral palsy.
Types of CP by body part affected
The types of cerebral palsy can be further classified based on which parts of the body are affected. CP is a group of movement disorders, and the extent of movement problems is related to the location of brain injury.
These are the types of cerebral palsy classified by the body parts that are affected.
- Monoplegia is a rare type of movement problem that occurs when only one arm or leg is affected.Monoplegia
- Diplegia affects two limbs, which most commonly are the legs. Children with diplegia may also have mild movement issues in the upper body. In many cases, diplegia is a result of premature birth that results in cerebral palsy.Diplegia
- Hemiplegia affects one entire side of the body. The arm is generally more affected than the leg and is distinguished by a rigidly flexed wrist or elbow. Prenatal brain bleeding can lead to hemiplegia.Hemiplegia
- Triplegia occurs when three limbs are affected. An example is when both legs and one arm cannot move freely.Triplegia
- Quadriplegia occurs when all four limbs are affected. The legs are generally impacted more than the arms. Quadriplegia may cause limited control over facial muscles.Quadriplegia
- Double hemiplegia occurs when all four limbs are affected, but one side is affected more than the other.Double hemiplegia
Using this additional classification can help differentiate between cerebral palsy types. For example, a diagnosis of cerebral palsy may be “spastic diplegia” or “spastic hemiplegia.”
If you have questions about which of the types of cerebral palsy your child may have, our comprehensive guide can help.
Download our FREE Cerebral Palsy Guide right now.
Gross motor function classification system (GMFCS)
The Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) is a tool used to classify the severity of mobility impairments in children with cerebral palsy.
The GMFCS consists of five levels that provide a better understanding of a child’s overall motor function. It can help to determine which mobility aids may be necessary to assist with movement in each of the types of cerebral palsy.
|Level I||Able to walk without limitations; by age two, they can sit independently, and by age six, they can navigate curbs and stairs without railings.|
|Level II||Can walk with some limitations; might use handheld mobility devices or wheelchairs for longer distances.|
|Level III||Primarily walks with handheld mobility devices indoors but uses wheelchairs for community travel and longer distances.|
|Level IV||Limited self-mobility; primarily uses manual or powered wheelchairs, with possible short-distance walking with assistance.|
|Level V||Severe movement limitations; requires power wheelchair for mobility and complete assistance for most activities.|
Specialists will examine a child's gross motor skills (such as sitting and walking) to determine their GMFCS level to accurately diagnose the cerebral palsy type.
According to Cerebral Palsy Alliance, a child over five years of age who ranks at Level IV (extreme motor function impairment) will generally not improve their level and will more than likely use a mobility device throughout their life.
Get legal help for cerebral palsy
If your child is affected by any of the cerebral palsy types, getting the proper support is a top priority. While the symptoms vary between the types of cerebral palsy, they often bring more challenges than families are prepared for.
If you think a mistake during birth caused your child's cerebral palsy, it's important to get help. Talking to an experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights and what to do next.
Cerebral Palsy Guide has partnered with a network of top birth injury lawyers who may be able to help you access the critical funds your family needs.