Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term denoting a group of non-progressive,[1][2] non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.[3] Scientific consensus still holds that CP is neither genetic nor a disease, and it is also understood that the vast majority of cases are congenital, coming at or about the time of birth, and/or are diagnosed at a very young age rather than during adolescence or adulthood. It can be defined as a central motor dysfunction affecting muscle tone, posture and movement resulting from a permanent, non-progressive defect or lesion of the immature brain.

Cerebral refers to the cerebrum, which is the affected area of the brain. The disorder may often involve connections between the cortex and other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum. The term palsy in modern parlance refers to disorder of movement, but the word root “palsy” does still technically mean “paralysis” today, even though it is not used as such within the meaning of cerebral palsy. The use of “palsy” in the term cerebral palsy makes it important to note that paralytic disorders are in fact not cerebral palsy – meaning that the condition of quadriplegia, which comes from spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury, should not be confused with spastic quadriplegia, which doesn't; nor should tardive dyskinesia be confused with dyskinetic cerebral palsy, or the condition of (paralytic) “diplegia” with spastic diplegia. In fact, as of the early 21st century some clinicians have become so distressed at common incorrect use of these terms that they have resorted to new naming schemes rather than trying to reclaim the classic ones; one such example of this evolution is the increasing use of the term bilateral spasticity to refer to spastic diplegia. Such clinicians even argue quite often that the “new” term is technically more clinically accurate than the established term.[citation needed]

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the motor control centres of the developing brain and can occur during pregnancy, during childbirth or after birth up to about age 3.[4][5] Resulting limits in movement and posture cause activity limitation and are often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, depth perception, and other sight-based perceptual problems, and communication ability; impairments can also be found in cognition, and epilepsy is found in about one-third of cases. CP, no matter what the type, is often accompanied by secondary musculoskeletal problems that arise as a result of the underlying disorder.[6] Cerebral palsy's nature as a broad category means it is defined mostly via several different subtypes, especially the type featuring spasticity, and also mixtures of those subtypes.

Improvements in the care of newborns has helped reduce the number of babies who develop cerebral palsy and increased the survival those with very low birth weights.[7][8] There is no known cure, with medical interventions attempting to treat and prevent complications. In 2009 the rate of CP was 2.2–4.4 per 1,000 live births in the western world,[9] indicating a slight rise in recent years.