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Types of cerebral palsy

There are several different types of cerebral palsy (CP). The five main types are spastic, ataxic, athetoid (dyskinetic), hypotonic, and mixed cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy types are classified based on mobility limitations and affected body parts. Each type of CP can vary in severity, symptoms, and treatment options. Learn more about cerebral palsy types below.

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Classification of cerebral palsy types

A child in a wheelchair and a health care provider talk and laugh in a hospital room.

The classification of cerebral palsy depends on the parts of the brain that are affected, as well as the movement issues 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 timely treatment 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.

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Cerebral palsy types

Learning about cerebral palsy types can help parents and caregivers better understand 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 of CP experience high muscle tone and exaggerated, jerky movements (spasticity).

Damage to the brain’s motor cortex causes spastic CP. This area of the brain 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 crawling and 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 care and 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 lifelong care.

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 CP 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).

Damage to the cerebellum causes ataxic cerebral palsy. This part of the brain 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.”

—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Mixed type cerebral palsy occurs when a child shows 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
    Monoplegia is a rare type of movement problem that occurs when only one arm or leg is affected.
  • Diplegia
    Diplegia affects two limbs, most commonly 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.
  • Hemiplegia
    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.
  • Triplegia
    Triplegia occurs when three limbs are affected. An example is when both legs and one arm cannot move freely.
  • Quadriplegia
    Quadriplegia occurs when all four limbs are affected. The legs are generally impacted more than the arms. The muscle tone of the trunk can also be affected. Quadriplegia may cause limited control over facial muscles. This can affect talking, eating, and swallowing.
  • Double hemiplegia
    Double hemiplegia
    Double hemiplegia occurs when all four limbs are affected, but one side is affected more than the other.

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.

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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. This scale looks at gross motor abilities and weaknesses (skills that require whole-body movement in order to complete daily tasks).

When analyzing a child’s gross motor function, medical professionals look at the abilities the child can usually perform at home or in the community, not the skills they sometimes perform when functioning at their best.

It can help to determine which mobility aids may be necessary to assist with movement in each of the types of cerebral palsy.

Level IAble to walk without limitations; by age two, they can sit independently, and by age six, they can navigate curbs and stairs without railings.
Level IICan walk with some limitations; might use handheld mobility devices or wheelchairs for longer distances.
Level IIIPrimarily walks with handheld mobility devices indoors but uses wheelchairs for community travel and longer distances.
Level IVLimited self-mobility; primarily uses manual or powered wheelchairs, with possible short-distance walking with assistance.
Level VSevere 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 the advocacy group 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.

Call (855) 220-1101 right now or fill out our free case review form to see if we can help.

Types of cerebral palsy FAQs

What are the 4 main types of cerebral palsy?

Generally, there are four different types of cerebral palsy – spastic, ataxic, athetoid, and hypotonic. Additionally, people can have multiple forms of the condition. When this occurs, it is called mixed type cerebral palsy.

The most common of the cerebral palsy types is spastic, according to statistics on cerebral palsy.

How do doctors determine which type of cerebral palsy my child has?

Doctors diagnose cerebral palsy types by using brain imaging like CT scans or MRIs, alongside EEGs, genetic or metabolic tests, or a combination of these approaches.

Cerebral palsy specialists may also use the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) to determine which type of cerebral palsy your child has.

The GMFCS is a five-level ranking system that examines overall motor function. Early medical intervention before age 5 can help improve your child’s GMFCS level and overall mobility.

Each of the cerebral palsy types is classified by a unique set of symptoms. It is possible for children to show symptoms of more than one of the types of cerebral palsy. These cases are considered mixed type cerebral palsy.

What is the most severe form of cerebral palsy?

The most severe of the types of cerebral palsy is spastic quadriplegia, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Spastic quadriplegia involves severe hypertonia (too much muscle tone) of the arms and legs and a floppy neck. Children with spastic quadriplegia are unable to walk and often have speech difficulties.

Patients with spastic quadriplegia may also experience moderate to severe intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

What is the mildest form of cerebral palsy?

The least severe form of the types of cerebral palsy is mild spastic diplegia. It mainly affects the legs, but people with the condition can often walk on their own.

What are the 6 classifications of cerebral palsy by body part affected?

Each of the types of cerebral palsy can be further classified by which body part is affected. These are the 6 classifications of cerebral palsy by body part.

  1. Monoplegia: Affects one arm or leg
  2. Diplegia: Impacts two limbs, typically the legs
  3. Hemiplegia: Affects one entire side of the body, with the arm often more impacted
  4. Triplegia: Affects three limbs
  5. Quadriplegia: Affects all four limbs, with legs often more impacted
  6. Double hemiplegia: Affects all limbs, but one side is more severely impacted

What is the average life expectancy for someone with cerebral palsy?

The average life expectancy for someone with cerebral palsy is similar to that of the general population, typically around 70 years.

However, individual cases vary greatly depending on the severity of symptoms and associated medical conditions.

Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

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