Being a parent or caregiver involves learning a lot about how the body works. To make sure our little ones are reaching developmental milestones, it’s important to understand everything from cognitive development to joints and bones and even muscle tone. Muscle tone is exactly what we’re exploring when we talk about Hypertonia and Hypotonia.
What is Muscle Tone?
Our muscles are meant to stretch, much like a rubber band. When you reach down to pick up your child or stretch before a workout, you feel resistance in your muscles. That’s what’s referred to as muscle tone — the tension you feel in your muscles as you move, bend, or stretch.
Muscle tone exists on a spectrum. Some people have high, others have low, but there’s no such thing as the perfect muscle tone. Additionally, muscle tone and muscle strength are two different things. If someone has low muscle tone, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re weak, and high muscle tone doesn’t always equal strength. However, when a child has abnormally low or high muscle tone, they can struggle with fine and gross motor movements.
What is Hypertonia?
Hypertonia means high muscle tone (“hyper” meaning excessive or increased). When someone has Hypertonia, their muscles are rigid and stiff. It’s difficult for them to stretch, flex, or complete simple movements like touching their toes or balancing on one foot. Young children who have been diagnosed with Hypertonia may have a hard time feeding, reaching for objects, using push-pull toys, walking, and balancing.
What is Hypotonia?
Hypotonia means low muscle tone (“hypo” meaning under or less). A person with Hypotonia is incredibly flexible but has decreased muscle tone, making it difficult to sit up straight or do coordinated movements. If babies or toddlers feel loose or floppy when you hold them or if they have a hard time with head control, moving limbs, or feeding themselves, they may have low muscle tone or Hypotonia.
When Do Hypertonia and Hypotonia Appear in Children?
Hypertonia and Hypotonia can appear as early as infancy, but sometimes signs won’t appear for months or years later. Early detection and treatment can be a game-changer, so it’s never too early to talk to your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your child’s muscle tone. Children with Hypertonia and Hypotonia can see major improvements in balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility when working with physical therapists or occupational therapists.
A child diagnosed with Hypertonia or Hypotonia has unique challenges, but with time and treatment, improvements are possible and can introduce them to a wonderful new world of movement and coordination.