Hypotonia is the medical term for decreased muscle tone. Healthy muscles are never fully relaxed, they retain a certain amount of tension and stiffness (muscle tone) that can be felt as resistance to movement. Hypotonia is not the same as muscle weakness, although it can be very difficult to use the affected muscles. Muscle tone is regulated by signals that travel from the brain to the nerves and tell the muscles to contract. Muscle weakness sometimes develops in association with hypotonia. It can be a condition on its own, called benign congenital hypotonia, or it can be indicative of another problem where there is progressive loss of muscle tone, such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, and conditions like meningitis. It's most commonly detected in babies soon after birth or at a very young age, although it can also develop later in life. Newborn babies and young children with severe hypotonia are often described as being "floppy".
Signs of hypotonia in a child may include: having little or no control of their neck muscles, feeling limp when held, being unable to place weight on their leg or shoulder muscles, difficulties with posture and mobility, finding sucking and swallowing difficult, a weak cry or quiet voice in infants and young children, and a child with hypotonia often takes longer to reach motor developmental milestones, such as sitting up, crawling, walking, talking, and feeding themselves. A child with hypotonia may also have problems with speech or exhibit shallow breathing An adult with hypotonia may have the following problems: clumsiness and falling frequently, difficulty getting up from a lying or sitting position, an unusually high degree of flexibility in the hips, elbows and knees, difficulty reaching for or lifting objects (in cases where there's also muscle weakness).
Treatment begins with a thorough diagnostic evaluation, usually performed by a neurologist, including an assessment of motor and sensory skills, balance and coordination, mental status, reflexes, and functioning of the nerves. Once a diagnosis has been made, t
he underlying condition is treated first, followed by symptomatic and supportive therapy for the hypotonia. Physical therapy can improve motor control and overall body strength. Occupational therapy can help relearn ways to address activities of daily living. Speech-language therapy can help breathing, speech, and swallowing difficulties.
Benefits of Aquatic physical therapy: Being in water gives more buoyancy, or lift, to the body than on land. So, many activities that a child with low tone can’t do on land can first be learned in the pool. The pool gives them an opportunity to learn an action without needing all the strength to complete the action. This is referred to as motor planning. The water is also a great place to work on strengthening muscles. Just moving the body through water requires more muscle strength than moving through air. Any movement a child is doing in the pool helps in strengthening every muscle they are using. The water can act as a support, and the deeper the water, the more supportive it can be. This provides a safer environment to regain balance and postural correction. Overall, the pool is a great place for kids with low tone to progress their gross motor skills, increase their overall strength and balance, and improve their motor planning in a fun environment. These are just a few of the many things aquatic therapy has to offer. SPOT Services experienced aquatic therapists are ready to answer your questions. Contact us today.