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What is low muscle tone?

To first understand what low muscle tone means, let’s start by defining muscle tone.  Muscle tone is the amount of tension, stiffness or resistance in a muscle at baseline or relative rest.  A ‘normal’ amount of muscle tone means that when a child is relaxed and you passively move their joints, there should be a mild amount of resistance.  In other words, the child should not be floppy, like a ragdoll.  To be ‘floppy’ or ‘loose’ is to have low muscle tone (hypotonia).  On the flip side, if it is really hard to move your child’s joints (when they are relaxed), this is high muscle tone (hypertonia) and it too, has issues associated with it. 

So, now we know what muscle tone is, how does low muscle tone affect your child?  Your level of muscle tone helps your body to hold positions throughout the day when at relative rest, for example when sitting in a classroom, standing in line at school or running and playing with other children.  If your child has low muscle tone, their muscles (and the tension within them) are not as developed as another child which might lead to:

  • Slouching
  • Poor posture
  • Complaining of tiredness or sore muscles or having to lie down
  • Fatiguing going up or down stairs, or using 2 feet on each step
  • Difficulty getting up off the floor

Similarly, when your child is walking, running or playing, because their muscles are lacking that baseline level of tension, they are prone to fatiguing quicker than their peers and lack stamina/endurance and balance in every day activities.  Low muscle tone often extends from the core and postural muscles to the extremities, but can also affect other areas such as pelvic floor (making toilet training difficult) as well as facial muscles (chewing and speech can be affected). 

So, what can be done to help low muscle tone?  PHYSIOTHERAPY! This includes core strengthening programs, exercise, upper and lower limb strengthening, play-based therapy, sport and general physical activity.  By improving low muscle tone, you will see improvements in endurance, posture, balance, coordination and strength which will help your child in all aspects of daily life!