What should I do if my child has low muscle tone?


Muscle tone is something that is discussed quite a bit in professional reports so what is it? and how does it affect my child?

Muscle tone refers to the ability of a muscle to resist a force without changing length i.e. the degree of resistance or tension in the muscles or the firmness of muscles. Muscle tone and muscle strength are that the same thing. 

 The most common tone disorders are hypotonia (decreased tone), hypertonia  (increased tone) and fluctuating tone (tone that changes).  When tone is low, the muscle is relaxed and the body part can be easily moved since there is little resistance to stretch.  The child is not able to contract (pull together) the muscles on either side of a joint, which is necessary for stable postural control.  This co-contraction is essential for shoulder joint stability, as it provides the supportive basis required for steady and refined movements of the hand (i.e., to sit upright at a desk leaving the hands free for manipulative activities; standing steadily while drawing on a blackboard; or walk while carrying a heavy object). Abnormal tone affects stability of parts of the body and the control, speed, and amount of movement which a child can achieve.  Their awareness of where their joints are in space and their awareness of touch may also be reduced.

How does this impact from a functional perspective?

Your child may have poor balance or coordination, a poor pencil grasp, slouched seated posture, the palms of their hand may be flat and therefore reducing dexterity and poor body awareness.

Make activities fun and engaging so it feels like play. 

Row Boats (sit facing the child with legs extended, put feet together and hold hands; push and pull as though rowing).

Tug of War (use hands, rope or towel). Vary the game by having the children assume different positions when playing, such as kneeling / sitting, with the teams either facing each other or with their backs to each other.

Wheelbarrows (walk on hands with another person holding up child’s legs). Try carrying a “load” such as bean bags on the child’s back.

Jumping (place three ropes on the ground and jump forwards, backwards and sideways) or trampolining.

Animal walks - imitate animal walks that involve moving on “all fours” or pulling themselves along the floor. Try crab walks, bear walks, bunny hops, slithering snakes, etc.

Wrestling games - In pairs have the children push against each other while either sitting back to back or kneeling/standing facing each other with their hands together or sitting with their feet pressed against each other.

Climbing activities - monkey bars, ropes, playground equipment.

Throwing and catching balls of different sizes and weights.

Carry out activities on the floor in four point kneeling e.g. jig-saws, dominoes, inset puzzles.

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