What does it mean to have 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 is the residual resting tension in our muscles. It is not an indicator of strength. It is the tension in the muscles when they are at rest (e.g. when we are doing nothing).
Low muscle tone occurs when the muscles are more ‘lax’ when they are at rest. This means that it takes more energy to contract the muscles to the point required to complete movements.
How do I know if my child has low muscle tone?
It is important to consult your Family Physician or a Paediatric Physiotherapist if you are concerned about your child's muscle tone. They will do an assessment to determine if there is an underlying cause to their fatigue, muscle weakness etc. & recommend specific exercises to be completed.
Signs that children experience low muscle tone:
- They may fatigue quickly.
- They may have difficulty sitting up straight for mat times or assume a 'W' sitting position.
- They may have a C-curve in their back.
- They might appear ‘floppy’ and have hyper-extendable joints.
- They may find weight bearing activities tricky such as wheelbarrow walks.
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. If your child is struggling in these areas, I have developed motor skill programs to develop fine & gross motor skills, which you can learn about by clicking here.
What can I do to develop muscle tone?
It is not possible to change a child’s muscle tone, however it is possible to temporarily heighten their tone & prepare their body for action. Activities that activate the extensor muscles of the trunk and neck are particularly helpful.
At a neurological level we know that extensor muscles are activated through a sense within our inner ear, called our vestibular system. We can provide increased stimulation to the particular receptors through linear movement (up and down, side to side, back to front).
Activity ideas include:
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Riding a bike or scooter
- Swings and slides
- Scooter boards
- Bouncing on a therapy ball
- Wheelbarrow Walks
- Climbing Activities
If you are interested in learning more about motor skills, I have uploaded lots of educational videos to My OT University, which you can access through this link.
Hope you found it helpful,
CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Jessica Kennedy is a Certified CORU Registered Occupational Therapist. All information on the website is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for medical advice from your physician. Please consult with a medical professional if you suspect any medical or developmental issues with your child. Do not rely on the information on the website as an alternative to advice from your medical professional or healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment as a result of any information provided on the website. All medical information on the website is for informational purposes only. All activities outlined on the website are designed for completion with adult supervision. Please use your own judgment with your child and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended during these activities. Please be aware of and follow all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. My OT & Me is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on this blog or website.