Managing Low Muscle Tone

Muscle tone is the state of contraction or tension within the body’s muscles.  Muscle tone is important to assist us in maintaining correct posture, stamina and movement control in most activities. Muscle tone occurs along a spectrum, some with a higher tone and others with a lower tone.

A useful analogy to think about is the muscles in our bodies as rubber bands, everyone has different tensions, but most of the population’s ‘rubber bands’ are pulled to an optimal tension, with some give and some rigidity.  Whereas, children with low muscle tone’s ‘rubber bands’ are at a reduced level of tension.  This means they need to put in more time and effort to get their muscles moving appropriately. Additionally, low tone means that their muscles have to work to keep them upright against normal gravity. This need for extra effort contributes to the child fatiguing quickly in movement tasks.

Often children with low muscle tone have delayed motor milestones such as rolling, crawling and walking. As they get older, they often find it difficult to maintain an upright posture when sitting on the floor or in a chair (often slumped or “hunched over” in their chair or on the carpet) and fatigue easily when writing for long periods of time.  Children with low muscle tone may also avoid or tire quickly from whole body movement tasks such as playing on the playground, team sports and walking for long distances.

Potential Indicators of Low Muscle Tone:

  • The child appears floppy or “double jointed”.
  • Clumsiness such as falling more frequently than peers and have difficulty with ball skills.
  • Late to achieve motor skills such as jumping, hopping, skipping and using stairs.
  • Poor posture which means they might slump, sit in a w-sit position or lie on the floor.  At the desk, they may slump or lean on one hand.
  • Difficulties with handwriting and drawing as they have difficulty grasping their pencil, or may use too much or too little pressure and/or their hands might tire quickly.
  • Poor endurance in movement tasks, they might tire very quickly and not like walking very far.

What to do if you think your child may have low muscle tone?

  1. Talk to your GP to consider the need for further assessment for underlying conditions.
  2. Discuss what you have noticed about your child with an allied health professional, who will be able to give you more specific advice.

Strategies for home and school:

  • Warm up activities: to activate the muscles required for a task.  For example, squeezing and rolling playdough or theraputty may help the child hold the pencil and write for longer.  Bouncing on the trampoline or sit-ups may help the child maintain a good seated posture.
  • Specific feedback: Support the child in developing awareness of how they should feel when they are performing the task, e.g. “I’m noticing you’re slumping. Can you squeeze your tummy.”
  • Physical feedback: show them which muscle they need to use to perform a task e.g. squeeze their bicep before they lift an object (e.g. toy box).
  • Obstacle courses with whole body movement activities: whole body movement activities can include crab walks, bear walks and bunny hops as these activities require several groups of muscles to activate at the same time. Give it a go yourself and see where you are generating movement from and guide your child to do the same.  Challenge them to hold positions for extended periods of time.
  • Balancing: make balancing challenges such as ‘how long can you stand on one leg?’ or draw a line with chalk on concrete and have the child walk steadily along the line without falling off.
  • Ball games: throwing and catching require muscles to generate tension and keep the body stable. Practice throwing and catching with a variety of sized balls (giant one to tiny ones) and in a variety of positions (e.g. sitting on the floor, standing on one leg, standing on tip toes).
  • Swimming: is excellent for children with low muscle tone to gain fitness and strength as their muscles do not need to maintain tone against gravity, making it significantly easier.
  • Provide breaks when needed: sometimes after using their muscles all day at school or kindy, your child may just need a chance to lay down and relax before starting homework or putting things away.

Remember: make it fun! Children learn better and do better when they are enjoying the activity.

Need more help? Occupational Therapists are qualified to work with children, adults and families to support engagement in activities for people with low muscle tone. Contact Therapy Alliance Group to book in with one of our fantastic OT’s.

We have Occupational Therapy appointments available in BeenleighChinchilla, and Toowoomba.  We also do consults via video conference with TeleTAGBook a phone consult now to discuss your specific therapy needs!

About the Author

Brooke Tunks Occupational Therapist TAG Clinic

Brooke Tunks
Occupational Therapist

Brooke is a registered Occupational Therapist who graduated from the University of Queensland with 2A Class Honours and the Dean’s Commendation for Academic Excellence. Her clinical experiences have ranged from children to adults in a variety of settings, her flexibility and compassion has allowed her transfer occupational therapy knowledge in a way that is meaningful to each individual. Throughout her degree Brooke worked as a support worker where she gained valuable insight into the daily goings-on for a family who have a child with a disability making her passionate about providing therapy centred around each families’ unique needs. Her previous experience also includes supporting a circus class and working for a modified bike program, where she was able to play a part in supporting people of all abilities to participate in healthy and fun activities. Brooke is new to Chinchilla, so please give her any insider tips as to places in town to check out or where she should day trip to on her days off.  

Things I love: baking (especially getting to eat the finished product), cute stationary and animals (once having a chicken called Zapdos for 14 years!)  

Things I don’t love: snakes, tomatoes and sad movies. 

Favourite colour:  Yellow.

“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best”    – Henry Van Dyke

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