History of Cerebral Palsy

3 Min Read

Sigmund FreudCerebral palsy is extremely complex and affects every child differently. As a parent, the future can look very uncertain, and you probably have far more questions than answers.

However, medical understanding of cerebral palsy has come a long way, particularly in the last three decades. With today’s range of treatments, many children affected by the condition have every chance of living a long, happy and fulfilled life.

On this page we will cover:

  • the history of cerebral palsy
  • what modern medicine means for you and your child

History of how cerebral palsy has been understood

As a medical term, cerebral palsy dates back to the 1880s. As a condition, its history is far older.

Siptah was an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled from around 1196 to 1190 BC. Ever since a medical examination of his mummified body revealed a severely deformed foot, some have pointed to Siptah’s body as the oldest physical evidence of a person with cerebral palsy. Whether this is true or otherwise, the Ancient Greeks’ medical literature outlines conditions and symptoms that match up with today’s understanding of cerebral palsy.

However, the foundations for modern medicine’s understanding of cerebral palsy were not laid until a period of discovery between the 1860s and the 1890s. For that, we can thank three Williams and a Sigmund. 

British surgeon William John Little was the first to observe that preterm births and difficulties in labour were risk factors for the condition we know today as spastic cerebral palsy. British neurologist William Gowers expanded on this, linking paralysis in newborns to difficult births. He named the condition ‘birth palsy’. Canadian physicist William Osler continued this work, categorising different types of cerebral palsy according to the parts of the body that the disorder affected.

Then, in 1897, came another milestone. Famous neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud became the first to suggest that birth palsy could develop during pregnancy, as well as during labour. His ideas, however, were unpopular. It was not until as recently as the 1980s that studies proved Freud right.

Modern medicine offers a positive outlook

Fast forward to today and medical science has a far greater grasp of the causes and mechanics of cerebral palsy. The range of treatments that are available to help manage the condition has expanded significantly, giving children and their families a brighter outlook for the future. A mixture of medication, surgery, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy can help children overcome the most debilitating effects of cerebral palsy so that, hopefully, they can be the happy children they deserve to be.

If you have more questions regarding cerebral palsy, and how we can help, please visit our dedicated page, or call us on 08000 448 488 for a free, confidential discussion. We work closely with organisations such as CerebraHeadway, the Child Brain Injury Trust and the Brain Injury Group, all of whom are able to provide additional help and guidance on living with a brain injury.