Types of cerebral palsy

There are generally considered to be three main types of cerebral palsy - spastic, athetoid and ataxic cerebral palsy.

These describe effects on the body and muscle tone that are dependent upon which part of the brain has been affected. Many people with cerebral palsy will have a mixture of these types.

Common types of cerebral palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy

Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type of cerebral palsy.

The word ‘spastic’ refers to muscle stiffness. Spasticity is also described as hypertonia, meaning there is too much muscle tone. In cerebral palsy, muscle spasticity is caused by damage to the motor cortex of the brain.

People with spastic cerebral palsy have difficulty with movement, such as:

  • contractures (permanent shortening of muscles or tightening of joints), restricting extension of their joints
  • abnormal reflexes
  • abnormal gait (way of walking)
  • exaggerated movements
  • walking on tip-toes

Dyskinetic ​& athetoid cerebral palsy

Athetoid cerebral palsy or athetosis refers to involuntary spasms from fluctuating muscle tone caused by damage to the basal ganglia and cerebellum in the brain. People with athetoid cerebral palsy make slow, writhing movements with their hands, feet, limbs and sometimes their neck and tongue. They can’t help making these involuntary movements.

Other terms which are often used to describe features of athetoid cerebral palsy include:

  • dyskinetic cerebral palsy – dyskinesia refers to abnormal or involuntary movement;
  • dystonic cerebral palsy – dystonia refers to slow, twisting movements of the limbs or torso;
  • choreoathetosis – chorea are sudden spasms and fast twitching movements, whereas athetoid movements are slow;
  • rigidity – restriction of movement.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

Ataxic cerebral palsy or ataxia affects balance and coordination. Ataxia is caused by damage to the motor control centres during development of the brain. People with ataxic cerebral palsy have difficulty coordinating fine muscle movements which can affect their posture, balance, walking and communication.

People with ataxic cerebral palsy may have:

  • difficulty with walking and balance;
  • problems with accurately perceiving depth;
  • impaired speech;
  • tremors;
  • difficulties with grasping and holding objects.


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