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Helping Feet Affected By Cerebral Palsy

Every 15 hours, a child in Australia is born with cerebral palsy (CP). CP is currently the most common physical disability in childhood, where the signs become evident within the first 12-18 months of a child’s life, and the effects are life-long. When it comes to the feet and legs, CP can significantly affect a person’s mobility and independence. Here at The Podiatrist, we work alongside a multi-disciplinary care team to help those affected decrease their pain and improve their comfort when walking and moving - interventions which can play a large role in maintaining their quality of life. Today, we thought we’d share the ways we help, as well as fill you in on CP and how it impacts the lower limbs.

Cerebral Palsy: The Background

CP is a term for a group of disorders that affect a person’s motor function, meaning voluntary and controlled movements. These functions are disturbed because of injury to the brain which often occurs during pregnancy or infancy from events that restrict blood flow to the brain, injuries to the brain, or brain infections. The effects of CP are permanent, but they can change over time. Every case of CP also has a different severity, so symptoms can range from mild, like weakness in one foot, to severe, like the inability to perform voluntary movements. Alongside motor function, other impairments are likely to be present such as speech, visual or learning difficulties.

The Feet & Legs in CP

The effects on the feet and legs are related to which areas of the brain have been affected, as these produce varying problems. There are three common classifications of movement disorders, and a person with CP may be affected by one or more of:

1. Spastic CP = Stiff Muscles

Approximately 80% of those with CP have spasticity. Spastic CP means that the tone of a person’s muscles is naturally increased, so the muscles shorten, become stiff, and result in restricted movements with poor flexibility. As flexibility and a good range of movement is a key part of a healthy and optimal gait, a person’s movements appear jerky, unbalanced and inefficient.

2. Dyskinetic CP = Uncontrollable Movements

Dyskinesia is characterised by involuntary muscle movements, whether they are jerky or very slow. This makes walking difficult and unpredictable.

3. Ataxic CP = Balance & Coordination Problems

Many liken ataxia to a ‘drunken’ gait - it is unsteady, staggering and can lack the quick movements and responses needed to maintain control when walking and moving. Like any form of CP, the severity of these balance and coordination deficits can vary, and if severe, can make daily movement very difficult.

Knowing the three primary ways that motor function is affected, the specific problems, signs and symptoms with the feet and legs include:

  • In the early years, not reaching regular development milestones such as walking, sitting and crawling
  • Having floppy (flaccid) or stiff and rigid limbs
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Jerky or uncontrolled movements
  • Poor balance and unsteadiness
  • Toe walking
  • Ankle movement restrictions
  • Clubfoot (equinovarus deformity)
  • Foot drop
  • Flat feet
  • High arches
  • Contracted muscles
  • A difference in the length of the legs
  • Hip dysplasia

Treating Feet Affected By Cerebral Palsy

We can help those affected by CP with their range of movement and flexibility, and their stability and comfort on their feet, by using non-surgical and non-invasive care. These include:

  • Ankle foot orthotics (AFO’s) & foot orthotics - AFO’s are orthotic devices that control both the foot and ankle. They are the most common type of orthotic used in children with CP and are proven to be effective in helping those affected reach their treatment goals. They are custom-made to improve foot and leg function and help manage muscle contractions, weakness and other problems. Foot orthotics are designed to support and correct the biomechanical function of the feet only to achieve similar goals, and the right type of orthotic is prescribed depending on a person’s symptoms, their treatment goals and what will benefit them the most
  • Physical therapy - with muscle tightness and weakness as two common effects of CP, applying appropriate stretching and strengthening therapies can help improve movement and comfort. These are prescribed on a case-by-case basis and have been proven to be most effective when combined with active movement training
  • Footwear - footwear can either help improve stability, balance and comfort - or hinder it. We help our patients select the most suitable footwear for the symptoms they’re experiencing and their current movement capabilities

Need help from an experienced, passionate team?

Here at The Podiatrist, we’re all about helping you realise your full potential. We’ve been helping residents of Toowoomba & Darling Downs look after their foot and leg health for over 20 years.Book your appointment online or call us on (07) 4638 3022


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Our expert team will get you out of pain and back to doing the things you love.