The Past, Present and Future of Cerebral Palsy

Understand more about the history of cerebral palsy and what the future might hold for therapies and treatments for those with CP.

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Woman in a wheelchair with her arms in the air

When was cerebral palsy first identified in the modern age?

In the 19th century, Dr. William John Little become the first person to study cerebral palsy and defined it in 1853. He used his experiences with various childhood illnesses, including polio, to drive his interest in a lifelong project to understand and help others with similar symptoms and conditions. 

The diagnosis he defined was referred to as “Little’s Disease” or ‘cerebral paralysis’ and Dr. Little explained that children with the condition had an injured nervous system that results in spasticity. British neurologist, Sir. William Gower expanded on this by linking paralysis in newborns to difficult births. Various scholars during this time researched and shared their accounts and insights to help build a great understanding of CP. 

Then, a Canadian called William Osler reviewed dozens of cerebral palsy cases and concluded that it was bleeding inside the brain which caused cerebral palsy. This was the first breakthrough in the history of the disorder, as it pinpointed the root cause behind it. 

Further refinements were made by later scientists, leading to a deeper understanding of CP and the factors associated with it. This understanding lead to therapies and treatments being developed including our own Bobath Approach, created by our founders, Dr Karel and Berta Bobath.

Black and white photo of a child in a wheelchair

The past

Experts believe that there is evidence of CP dating from the earliest of times. In fact, the mummified remains of Siptah, an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled from around 1196 to 1190 BC and died at the age of 20, have been examined and are thought to show evidence of a man who lived with CP.

The first known descriptions in literature are found in the work of Hippocrates in the 5th century BCE and medical journals of Greek scholars refer to ‘subjects suffering from paralysis due to weak muscles’. Moving through history, 16th-century medieval paintings have depicted cerebral palsy and related disorders.

FACT: The word ‘palsy’ itself is derived from the Greek words, which translates to paralysis.



A young man and a woman

The present

Currently, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, however, it is one of the most common childhood disorders, and many researchers are working on better treatments. their motor skills and ability to communicate with the world.

There is a range of treatment options available to support those with cerebral palsy, enabling them to live productive lives. The most common treatment options (which may vary according to each child’s unique needs) include:

  • Therapies, including speech, physical, occupational, and cognitive therapies
  • Medications to help with pain, seizures, spasticity, excessive drooling, and more
  • Special education, educational assistance, and counselling
  • Surgical options, if needed

Supportive treatments, medications, and surgery can help many people with CP improve their daily interactions and life experiences – something we strive to provide at The Bobath Centre.

A group of people with disabilities sharing a laugh

The possible future?

Recently, stem cell therapy has attracted huge interest as a new therapeutic method for the treatment of CP. The goal of this intervention is to replace damaged tissue with new tissues generated by stem cells, which have a good regenerative capacity

In the ultimate long-term, scientists are optimistic that one day, they will have a cure.