Beyond the Cosmetics: How Botox® Can Treat Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neuromuscular disorders that affect an individual’s ability to move and maintain both balance and posture.

According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, it’s the most common childhood motor disability, affecting about one in 323 children. CP is more common in boys than in girls, and it’s also more common in black children than in white ones. About 75%-85% of affected children have spastic CP, which means their muscles are stiff and their movements are awkward.

At Memphis Neurology, with offices in Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi, our expert team of providers offers comprehensive neurological care, including the treatment of cerebral palsy. Keep reading to learn more about how we can help, including our use of Botox® to control the disease’s symptoms.

Cerebral palsy 101

Cerebral palsy arises from abnormal brain development or damage to the developing fetal brain that results in a person’s inability to control their muscles — cerebral means related to the brain, and palsy means a weakness in the muscles.

Doctors classify CP into four types, according to which area of the brain is affected, and the primary type of movement disorder involved. These include:

  1. Spasticity (stiff muscles)
  2. Dyskinesia (uncontrollable movements)
  3. Ataxia (poor balance and coordination)
  4. Some combination of the above three

The symptoms vary from person to person, but all people with CP display problems with movement and posture. Many also have comorbid conditions such as intellectual disability; problems with vision, hearing, or speech; seizures; spinal deformities (such as scoliosis); joint problems (such as contractures); an abnormal sense of touch or perception of pain; oral diseases; mental health issues; and urinary incontinence.

CP’s signs and symptoms begin to appear in infancy or during the preschool years. The disease can affect the whole body, or it can be limited to mostly one limb or one side of the body. The brain’s condition doesn’t degenerate over time, so the symptoms usually don't worsen with age. Some, however, might become more or less apparent, and muscle shortening and rigidity can worsen if not treated early on.

Botox 101

Botox (onabotulinumtoxin A) comes from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which produces botulinum toxin, the deadly neurotoxin that causes botulism (food poisoning).

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), though, Botox, made from very small doses of the toxin, is a safe preparation with few side effects when used in a therapeutic context.

The drug temporarily paralyzes muscles, which has seen its rise in cosmetic use as a treatment for smoothing out facial wrinkles. However, medically, it can benefit a wide range of muscle-and nerve-related disorders.

To cause a contraction, the nerves release the chemical messenger acetylcholine at the location — known as a junction — where they meet muscle cells. Acetylcholine attaches to the cells, causing them to contract. Botox and related neurotoxins, though, interfere with acetylcholine’s release, preventing contractions and allowing the muscles to relax.

The CP-Botox connection

Cerebral palsy is a disease composed of involuntary muscle contractions or spasms, while Botox prevents those same contractions. Therefore, Botox injections have a valid therapeutic use in relieving the spasticity symptoms for which CP is known.

Botox’s effectiveness lasts only for a few months, meaning it can’t serve as a permanent treatment for CP. However, your Memphis Neurology physician can reinject the drug every three to four months, giving you fairly consistent relief.

There is, as yet, no cure for CP, but there is a reasonably effective treatment for some of its major symptoms. If you or your child has CP and are looking for a way to relieve the constant muscle spasms, contact us at either of our locations today. We can help.

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