What are the symptoms of cerebral palsy?

Even though the symptoms of cerebral palsy often differ from person to person, they can include1:

  • Ataxia (pronounced uh-TAK-see-uh), the loss of muscle coordination when making movements
  • Spasticity (pronounced spa-STIS-i-tee), stiff or tight muscles; jerky, repeated movements; and stronger-than-normal reflexes (for example, the knee-jerk reflex)
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Walking on the toes
  • Walking in a crouched position
  • Muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy
  • Drooling
  • Trouble with swallowing or speaking
  • Shaking (tremor) of arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Sudden, uncontrolled movements
  • In infants and toddlers, delays in motor skills (such as sitting, crawling, walking)
  • Trouble with precise movements such as writing or buttoning a shirt

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms result from problems with muscles and not from problems with cognition or thinking. For example, a person with cerebral palsy may have trouble speaking because he or she cannot control or move the muscles involved with speaking, not because of brain problems with language.

The symptoms of cerebral palsy vary in type, can range from mild to severe, and can change over time. Symptoms are different for each person, depending on the areas of the brain that have been affected. All people with cerebral palsy have movement and posture problems.1

In addition to problems with muscle movement, symptoms occasionally include1:

Although the NICHD research portfolio includes work on cerebral palsy and rehabilitative therapies, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke leads research on cerebral palsy at the NIH and offers comprehensive information on cerebral palsy through its website.


  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2013). Cerebral palsy: Hope through research. Retrieved August 10, 2013, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/detail_cerebral_palsy.htm

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