Whenever we use our muscles for movement, we either stretch or contract them. The muscle tension here adds resistance to this movement. If this muscle tension is higher, it is hypertonia, and if it is lower, it is hypotonia. So, let us remove all the confusion and study hypotonia in toddlers and infants.
What Is Hypotonia?
It would be important to understand the meaning of muscle tone to understand hypotonia. Muscle tone is the amount of tension in your muscle when at rest. When children cannot sit properly and keep flopping down, they typically have hypotonia. The disease in itself is called floppy infant syndrome. Muscle tone develops during pregnancy; however, premature babies do not have appropriate muscle tone as they are delivered. However, hypotonia in premature babies is usually temporary due to being delivered before time.
Causes of Hypotonia in Babies
Hypotonia is not a condition in itself. It arises from various other health issues. It can be caused due to a birth injury or conditions of the spinal cord, brain, and nerves. These three organs are closely related to muscle development and control.
So, the causes of hypotonia in infants can be:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Down Syndrome
- Nerve Damage may be due to birth injury
- Prader-Willi syndrome
- Malformation or brain damage may be due to lack of oxygen supply at the time of birth
- Muscular dystrophy
- Trisomy 13
- Environmental issues or infections
- There is a substance called myelin that covers the nerves. It provides insulation to the nerve fibers and helps carry messages to and from your brain. Supposedly, the myelin gets damaged, the signals travel abnormally.
- In a few cases, it is difficult to determine the cause of hypotonia. It is called benign congenital hypotonia.
Symptoms of Hypotonia
Following are hypotonic symptoms in a baby:
- Due to bad control of neck muscles, the head flops.
- Difficulty feeding.
- Difficult to handle the kid due to flopping or limping kid.
- Weak cry
- Very flexible joints
- When the child is lifted, the child feels limp. They might slip through your hands. So, be careful while lifting.
- Not able to take the weight over feet after 4 months of age
- Not able to lift and bend the legs and arms when the child lays on their back.
Impact of Hypotonia on Infants
Following are the impacts of hypotonia on infants:
- The child gets tired easily even after a little physical activity
- Delayed development of gross motor skills’ e.x., a child may not be able to sit by 10 months of age or walk until 18 months of age.
- The child prefers sedentary activities.
- Sometimes the muscles of the mouth might get affected too, which results in delayed speech.
- The child prefers to sit in a rounded shoulder posture.
- The child cannot maintain an upright posture for a long time.
- Swallowing and sucking might be difficult for the child.
- The legs and arms of kids suffering from hypotonia will hang straight. It will not bend at hips, elbows, and knees.
- The child will not be able to bear any weight on their shoulder and leg muscles.
- Hypermobile joints
Diagnosis of Hypotonia in Babies
Since there are multiple causes behind hypotonia, it might take time to diagnose hypotonia. The doctor might ask you a series of questions regarding your family’s genetic and medical history. He will also be keen to know the course of your pregnancy, your delivery details, and whether the child witnessed any seizures after birth. The child will go through a physical examination to check:
To be very sure and to draw a conclusion, the doctor might order some tests like:
- Blood tests
- MRI or CT scan of the brain
- EEG or Electroencephalogram to calculate the electrical activity of the brain
- EMG or Electromyography to calculate the performance of the muscles and nerves
- Muscle Biopsy: Here, the doctor will take the kid’s sample of muscle tissue and study it under the microscope.
- Genetic tests
- Spinal Tap: It is used to determine the pressure in the spine. The doctor will also take a sample of the spinal fluid for further testing.
How Is Hypotonia Treated in Babies?
Once the doctor figures out the cause behind the disease, the treatment follows. Different types of therapies might help strengthen the muscles and improve coordination. Like:
1. Occupational Therapy
It helps the child develop fine motor skills.
2. Sensory Stimulation Program
3. Physical Therapy
It further enhances the child’s control of their movements. The child might gain strength and improve muscle time with time.
4. Speech-Language Therapy
Exercises/Activities to Cure Low Muscle Tone in Babies
Following activities or exercises will help an infant to improve muscle tone:
1. Feed Well
Make sure the child eats properly. Give food in small intervals. If the child requires support while eating, please provide them with proper support.
2. Post Crawling
3. Toy Positioning
Keep toys in different positions to encourage them to reach the place and get the toys. Once the kid can stand and walk, make them walk on different surfaces. Place toys in a way that the child squat and run to take them.
Following are the activities for a child:
Make the child pull and push the filled laundry bag around the house. You can fill the bag with toys or anything.
2. Tug of War
Hold the rope from one side and let the child pull it for 10-15 seconds in a go. Put something soft behind them in case they fall.
Make the child sit on the therapy ball. Bounce the child up and down. You can also roll the ball front, back, and sideways to up one level.
4. Animal Walks
Make them do crab walks, snake crawl, bear walk, and bunny hop. These walks work on many muscles and help put weight on the joints.
5. The Ball Game
Make them kick, throw, catch and hit the ball.
6. Fine Motor Skills
Make the child do a lot of hand exercises so that later they can write and draw well. Make them use spray bottles to water the plants.
When to Consult a Doctor?
Floppy baby syndrome life expectancy is sometimes quite low. Mostly, hypotonia can be diagnosed at birth. But in a few cases, it does not become clear until they get a little old. The clear sign of hypotonia is: the child not meeting the developmental milestones.
In such a scenario, discuss your child’s growth with the doctor. The doctor will do a physical examination and might ask to conduct a few tests in case of doubt.
In the case of an adult, if sudden symptoms appear, consult a doctor immediately.
The underlying condition defines the outcome of this disease. Hypotonia can be a lifetime disease. Or in some cases, the muscle tone might improve with time. Many milder cases might not even witness developmental delays. Some children might acquire gross motor skills a little late. Most children improve with continuous therapy over time. But few sensitive cases may require wheelchairs or walkers and other assistive equipment for day-to-day activities.
A hypotonic child might need support for daily activities, the most being their parents’ emotional and mental support. Do not compare your child. Do not be saddened that your child’s development is delayed or that your child is a certain way. Be their support. Therapy might improve things over time. Do not panic and listen to what the doctor suggests.