How Pediatric Occupational Therapy Can Help Children with Low Muscle Tone

What is low muscle tone?
Low muscle tone, also known as hypotonia, is a symptom that affects a child’s muscles, joints, and movements. Symptoms are usually detected either at birth or during infancy. The anatomy behind low muscle tone is the length of the resting muscles. These muscles are longer than normal, which causes an overlap of muscle fibers that results in fewer connections. These connections are important for joint motions and muscle movements. With low muscle tone, it takes longer for the muscle to contract. It causes slower movements and an increase of energy being used. This is why children with low muscle tone have less endurance than children who have typical muscle tone.

What are signs and causes of low muscle tone?
Signs of low muscle tone include a variety of things. First off, it depends on the cause. Causes of low muscle tone can be due to problems in the nervous system, muscle system, or brain. Other causes can be due to a disorder, an injury, or an illness. Symptoms can be first found by looking at a child’s early developmental milestones. Symptoms of low muscle tone during infancy include poor head control, loose or floppy joints, increase in flexibility, delay in fine motor skills, delay in gross motor skills, or a delay in sitting, crawling, or walking. Symptoms during childhood can include speech difficulties, feeding difficulties, poor posture, weak endurance, poor balance, or increased flexibility. However, there may be other symptoms that can be seen with low muscle tone.

What should I do if my child has low muscle tone?
Children with low muscle tone may be referred to a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) to strengthen muscles and increase motivation. For infants, you can strengthen muscles through “tummy time.” This increases arm, neck, and head strength. Tummy time can be on the floor, on a pillow, or on an adult. Pediatric occupational therapists work with toddlers and children in many ways to increase their muscle strength, motivation, endurance, and attention. Occupational therapists target different domains to increase muscle tone. They may use a climbing jungle gym to increase gross motor and fine motor skills. Activities such as carrying objects help increase the child’s strength and endurance. The therapist will also use toys such as scooters, swings, balls, and tunnels to engage the child during therapy. The therapist uses objects and games to encourage the child to move and become motivated to participate in activities.

If you have questions about your child’s possible low muscle tone, Chicago Occupational Therapy can help.

Contact us or call 773-980-0300.