Low muscle tone, also known as floppy baby syndrome or hypotonia, is a developmental disorder that occurs in babies and children, and can cause severe delays in coordination, strength and movement. It can coexist with muscle weakness, breathing and speech difficulties as well as poor reflexes. The condition causes infants to have a "rag-doll" appearance in which their limbs hang limp and they have little or no head control. Sometimes, low muscle tone can improve on its own without any treatment, but treatments often are necessary.
Treating Underlying Cause
One of the first ways to begin treating low muscle tone is by diagnosing any underlying condition that could be causing the hypotonia. Conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs disease or Prader-Willi syndrome can cause hypotonia as can environmental factors, traumas and genetic disorders, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Once the underlying condition is discovered, treatment may begin. The treatment differs based on the severity of low muscle tone, the child's age and whether the child has other conditions, such as cerebral palsy.
If you have a child or baby with low muscle tone, get her moving as much as possible to help build and tone muscles. Whether it is putting your baby on her belly to help her strengthen her neck and back muscles, enrolling your toddler in swim lessons or helping your first-grader learn to play soccer, exercise and physical activity are important to combat hypotonia. Pick an activity she likes and encourage her without encouraging competitiveness. Since your child may have a harder time than other children with certain physical activities, competitiveness could be discouraging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest children get up to 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Children with hypotonia may require a different level of physical activity, so talk to your doctor about what is best for your child.
Infants and babies with low muscle tone may need sensory stimulation to help them get acquainted with their bodies and get their nerves and senses working. Babies need to be put on their tummies for extended periods to help build neck and back muscles. Also, therapy for infants will include putting them in various positions for play to help build strength and avoid flattening the back of the developing skull.
Physical therapy can benefit some children with hypotonia by reversing the effects of the condition. Therapy generally targets the symptoms of hypotonia and may improve small muscle skills while also building muscle all over the body. Therapists may use massage techniques and strengthening exercises to enhance muscle skill. Some children may need to see other specialists, such as pediatric orthopedists, neurologists, opthamologists or gastrointestinal physicians for optimal therapy.
Is This an Emergency?
- BabyCenter; What is “Low Muscle Tone” and What Does it Mean?; Andrew Adesman
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; What is Hypotonia?; February 2007
- A Total Approach: Muscle Tone and Hypotonia
- Children’s Hospital Boston: Muscle Weakness (Hypotonia)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Children Need?