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Low Muscle Tone: What is Hypotonia?

written by: Angela Atkinson • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 6/29/2009

Low muscle tone, or hypotonia, is associated with several childhood conditions. Find out how it's diagnosed, treated and the general prognosis of the condition.

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    Low Muscle Tone: The Misconceptions

    When most people hear the term “low muscle tone” they automatically think it has something to do with bodybuilding or fitness, but in reality, it’s a serious medical condition often seen in children. Low muscle tone, or hypotonia, is often referred to as “floppy baby” or “floppy muscles” disease.

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    Low Muscle Tone: Diagnosis

    How do you know if your child has hypotonia? Low muscle tone is associated with several childhood diagnoses, including cerebral palsy and even Asperger’s syndrome. Parents often notice that children are more flexible or “floppy” than their peers. This is because the muscles that normally prevent the skeleton from moving in certain ways aren’t doing their jobs.

    Kids with hypotonia also tend to have problems with feeding and don’t generally meet their developmental milestones at the same time as their peers.

    According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders,” Symptoms and findings associated with the group of neuromuscular disorders formerly known as benign congenital hypotonia include low muscle tone (hypotonia) at birth or in the first few months and general “floppiness” of muscles.”

    Children with the condition are generally referred to a neurologist for treatment. The doctor performs various tests, including CAT scans, sensory and motor tests, balance, reflex and nerve tests to determine the patient’s medical status and level of hypotonia.

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    Low Muscle Tone: Treatment

    Hypotonic children often have other concurrent diagnoses which must be considered, but in general, muscles can be strengthened through exercise. Standard soccer-playing and PE classes aren’t enough though. Low muscle tone must be treated with very specialized physical therapy. And, say experts, the sooner the better. Most kids can be diagnosed as infants, and therapy should start right away.

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    Low Muscle Tone: Prognosis

    Hypotonia is a life-long condition that currently has no cure, but with intensive physical therapy and a family commitment to the child’s health, significant improvement in muscle tone can be made in some cases. Other kinds of therapy can also be beneficial, including sensory stimulation programs. Parents of hypotonic kids should be aware that joint dislocation is a common injury experienced by these children. The good news is that the US National Institutes of Health continue to research possible treatments and cures.