Low or flaccid muscle tone (hypotonia) is a rare symptom of cerebral palsy.
In fact, most people with cerebral palsy have the opposite condition, which is high muscle tone (hypertonia).
This article will help you understand what to expect if your child has flaccid muscle tone and the best ways to manage it.
Types of Cerebral Palsy with Flaccid Muscle Tone
Cerebral palsy is a motor disability, meaning that it affects a person’s movements.
Our muscles create movement by contracting and relaxing. Individuals with flaccid muscle tone lack muscle tension at rest, which increases their risk of injury and makes it difficult to coordinate movements.
There are 4 main types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic CP is characterized by high muscle tone and is the most common type of cerebral palsy (making up about 80% of all CP cases). It’s caused by damage to the motor cortex and is the only type of CP that does not experience flaccid muscle tone.
- Dyskinetic CP is characterized by uncontrollable movements and is caused by damage to the basal ganglia. Individuals with this type of cerebral palsy experience involuntary fluctuations between spastic and flaccid muscle tone.
- Ataxic CP will affect one’s balance and coordination. It’s caused by damage to the cerebellum. Individuals with this type of cerebral palsy often have flaccid muscle tone.
- Mixed CP is caused by damage to multiple areas of the brain. Therefore, individuals with this type of cerebral palsy will demonstrate symptoms of 2 or all of the types listed above.
Most children with flaccid muscle tone due to cerebral palsy will be diagnosed by the time they’re 6 months old.
However, milder forms of hypotonia may go unnoticed until the child gets a little older.
Signs of Flaccid Cerebral Palsy
Every case of cerebral palsy is unique. Even individuals with the same type of CP can have completely different symptoms.
Symptoms of flaccid cerebral palsy include:
- Limp or floppy limbs
- Minimal or no neck control (head tilting to the side while sitting or unable to raise head when lying on stomach)
- Developmental delays
- Frequent falls and clumsiness
- Extreme flexibility
- Slow movements and reflexes
- Soft or weak voice
- Feeding difficulties
- Wide-based stance when walking, sitting, or standing
Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain at birth or early childhood. While the brain damage will not worsen over time, symptoms can progress which makes proper management essential.
Management of Flaccid Cerebral Palsy
Early management of cerebral palsy symptoms is crucial to maximizing your child’s mobility.
Management for flaccid muscle tone can consist of:
Physical therapy for children with hypotonia will consist of exercises to build muscle strength and improve coordination.
Muscle tone refers to the amount of tension a muscle has at rest. In contrast, muscle strength is what helps you perform movements when the muscles aren’t at rest.
By working on building strength, individuals with flaccid muscle tone can improve the speed and coordination of their movements.
Occupational therapy for flaccid muscle tone will focus on practicing everyday activities like eating and getting dressed.
Working on practical tasks teaches children how to be independent at home and promotes active movement.
Depending on the severity of your child’s hypotonia, an occupational therapist may also teach your child how to use adaptive equipment.
Flaccid muscle tone can affect all muscles in the body, including those around the mouth.
To manage speaking or feeding difficulties, individuals with hypotonia should see a speech-language pathologist.
At speech therapy, children will practice activities focused on strengthening the oral motor muscles so that they can communicate more effectively.
Children with severe cerebral palsy that are non-verbal can learn how to use alternative forms of communication like tablets or voice generators.
Because children are constantly growing, poor posture can affect the way the body develops.
Wearing orthotic devices like braces or casts can help promote proper body alignment and form.
For example, a trunk brace will help prevent slouching due to weak core muscles and prolong sitting balance.
While orthotic devices won’t treat flaccid muscle tone, they can provide the support necessary to reduce injuries and promote proper musculoskeletal alignment.
Caring for a Child with Flaccid Cerebral Palsy
Now that you understand what flaccid muscle tone is and how to manage it, here are some tips to keep in mind when caring for a child with hypotonia:
1. Before lifting your child, always make sure that one hand is supporting the back of their head to prevent neck injury.
2. Never grab your child by their arms or legs because children with low muscle tone are more likely to dislocate a joint.
3. Make sure that your child’s clothes fit right. Try to find clothes that are comfortable, easy to put on, won’t restrict movement, and won’t get caught on nearby objects.
4. Encourage your child to perform activities of daily living independently and only assist them when they ask for it. This will promote active movement and body awareness.
5. Be patient. Because children with flaccid muscle tone struggle to coordinate their movements, they’ll likely need more time to carry out tasks and activities.
With the right care and enough practice, individuals with hypotonia can improve their mobility. Good luck!
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