Hypotonia in Kids: What to Know About Low Muscle Tone

Everyone wants their child to be healthy — the muscular system plays an integral role in supporting children’s bodies, blood circulation, and movement. Kids with hypotonia (medical jargon for low muscle tone) won’t show resistance when their joints move. Essentially, the child’s muscles feel soft and floppy. Whether you were just told your child has hypotonia or you’re beginning to think they might — here’s what you should know about low muscle tone in children:

What Is Hypotonia?

So, what exactly is poor muscle tone? Take a moment to relax your arm. Now, take your hand and pinch the relaxed arm’s bicep. Do you notice the tension and tightness in your muscle? When someone has hypotonia, the muscle feels soft and offers little resistance (if any).

Low muscle tone describes the amount of tension and resistance someone’s muscles have while at rest. Muscles should hold a certain level of tightness even when at rest. There’s a common misconception that children with hypotonia are weak — they can actually be quite strong! There’s a difference between muscle tone and strength. Muscle strength can change throughout life, but low muscle tone can’t really change.

While hypotonia is technically a standalone condition, weak muscle tone is often a symptom of other conditions.

Does My Baby Have Hypotonia?

Since hypotonia is typically present at birth, it is most commonly detected in babies and young children. Hypotonia is also called “floppy infant syndrome” because newborns will feel weak and floppy within minutes of birth. Your baby may have little strength, limited interest in moving their arms and legs, and delayed reflexes.

The most common indicators that a baby may have low muscle tone appear in their limbs. If you lift your infant around their tummy and their limbs hang like a rag doll, your child likely has low muscle tone. There are a few other common signs: your baby holds a frog-leg posture, bends their arms at the elbow and keeps them above their head, or has poor head control.

While low muscle tone commonly presents itself in infants, hypotonia persists as the child ages. Children with low muscle tone struggle with increased joint flexibility (often appearing double-jointed), poor balance, poor posture, and fatigue.

How Does Low Muscle Tone Impact My Child?

Your child’s life will undoubtedly be impacted by low muscle tone, so it’s essential that your child visit an occupational or physical therapist to alleviate symptoms and learn to work with it. There are many hypotonia symptoms in children:

  • Difficulty sitting upright for extended periods
  • Difficulty controlling head movements
  • Difficulty changing positions
  • Limited interest in playing or physical activity
  • Poor posture
  • Coordination issues
  • Fatigue
  • Poor balance
  • Poor motor skills

Who Can Help With Low Muscle Tone?

Typically, physiotherapists and occupational therapists provide the best treatment plans for children with hypotonia. Low muscle tone is a spectrum, and can impact a child or adult very individual ways. As a result, a collaboration between physiotherapists and occupational therapists is highly recommended.

Physiotherapists will assess where a child falls on this spectrum, the significance of their tonal challenges, while occupational therapists will assess the skill gaps that might result from low tone and how to help a child or adult increase their independence. Then, a customized plan is created to strengthen the child’s muscles through various activities!

If your child has a low muscle tone, they will undoubtedly benefit from intentional exercises to strengthen the muscles! They should also participate in various activities to improve their coordination, posture, motor skills, and physical endurance.

If low muscle tone is impacting you or your family, start your journey today. Try these activities at home.

The earlier intervention starts, the better results are seen; connect with our physio team and start the assessment process.

It’s important to empower your child and help them learn how to navigate living with low muscle tone — so they can be happy, healthy, and active in their childhood and beyond!

Roxanne Jason


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