Low muscle tone, also called Hypotonia, is a term used to describe the resting length of a muscle before it is activated for purposeful movement. If a muscle’s resting length is greater than average, a child may present with hyperextenion of the joints. In addition, hypotonia refers to the speed of a muscle contraction, difficulty in maintaining a static pose and difficulty in completing dynamic movements. This is not to mean that a child has no muscle tone, but rather that a lower muscle tone makes it more strenuous to complete age-appropriate tasks.
Hypotonia is often identified at birth or during infancy. You may see low tone as a child ages as well. A common indicator of hypotonia is delayed motor skills. It can be associated with certain medical diagnoses, including Down syndrome or Prader-Willi syndrome, or can be independent diagnoses.
Other common signs of Hypotonia
- Open mouth posture
- Difficulty in initiating a suck or swallow reflex
- Breathing difficulty (could be shallow or labored)
- Slow reaction times to stimuli, including pain, surprise or humor
- Difficulty in flexing arms and legs in infancy
- Delayed motor skills
- Difficulty in maintaining a seated posture
- Inability to lift or carry body weight
- Low foot arches
Hypotonia cannot be cured, however, with consistent physical or occupational therapy, low muscle tone can be managed and treated. A therapist will complete standardized testing and clinical observations to determine how a child is performing certain tasks and what aspects of the task are proving difficult. Therapy will focus on providing multisensory and motor experiences to improve muscle tone, responses to sensory input and body awareness.
NSPT offers physical or occupational therapy services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!
Muscle tone refers to the muscle’s ability to sustain a contraction. It is different than muscle strength, which refers the muscles’ power. A child with low muscle tone is often observed to sit with a slouched posture, may have difficulty holding their head upright when sitting at a desk and may be observed to prop their head up with their hand. Other observations include having difficulty sitting for extended periods of time, particularly without back support or w-sitting, where the legs are splayed out to the side in the shape of a ‘w’ when sitting on the ground.
Muscle tone cannot actually be changed, though through occupational or physical therapy, muscles will become stronger and compensate for the low muscle tone to help support your child through his/her daily tasks.
Here are five activities to help address strength, endurance and low muscle tone at home and in the community:
- At the park, have your child lie on his belly on the slide and pull himself up the slide using only his arms.
- Complete yoga poses that work on balance and core strength, like down dog or plank.
- Using a weighted ball or BOSU ball, have your child lift the ball overhead with both arms, lower it to the floor and balance his hands on the ball while he jumps his feet backwards into a plank position. Repeat these steps 10 times.
- Have your child lie on his back on the floor. With his legs raised off the floor and knees bent, have him weave a ball between his legs.
- Encourage your child to use the monkey bars or hang from the zip-line when at the park.