In the United States, there are currently 764,000 children and adults who exhibit one or more of the symptoms of cerebral palsy (CP). The term cerebral palsy refers to nonprogressive neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood that permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination. Cerebral palsy affects muscle movement and coordination; it is caused by damage to certain areas of the brain that control motor functions and balance. Most of the time, cerebral palsy occurs during or right after birth, but its symptoms may not be seen or identified until months later. Additionally, a small percentage of children can be diagnosed with CP within the first years of life due to brain infections or head injuries. Some symptoms include a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, crouched or "scissored" gait; and, finally, muscle tone that is either too stiff or too "floppy." It is vital to remember that CP has varying degrees and not all persons with cerebral palsy exhibit the same symptoms.
There are a variety of health and social benefits associated with exercise in this population, including increased participation in individual and community activities; improved sense of well-being and a reduction in anxiety; increased lung and heart efficiency; increased strength, flexibility, mobility, and coordination; improved bone health; weight control; and a reduction of chronic diseases and secondary conditions. In order to acquire these personal benefits, an effective and safe exercise prescription needs to be created. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the same guidelines proposed to the general population can be applied to individuals with CP.