In a randomised, double-blind study, the effects of intramuscular injection of botulinum toxin type A (BtA) into the upper limb were compared with those of normal saline solution in 14 patients with cerebral palsy; their mean age was 9 years. Range of movement and function were assessed before injection and at 2 and 12 weeks after injection. BtA injection significantly increased maximum active elbow and thumb extension and significantly reduced tone at wrist and elbow. The hand grasp-and-release score improved, representing a modest functional change, but fine motor function, assessed by the ability to pick up coins, did not improve and in some cases deteriorated temporarily. The most notable subjective change was the cosmetic benefit of reduced involuntary elbow flexion. The tone-reducing effect of BtA was clinically detectable in comparison with the placebo and patients and parents perceived the change as beneficial. The median of changes in the treatment group was small but the range was large, suggesting that BtA can be useful in selected patients.