How does low muscle tone affect my child?

child slouching

Muscle tone refers to the natural stress in the muscle when at rest. It is not the same as muscle strength. A child with a natural lower tone in his muscle will use his muscles with more effort than a child with normal muscle tone. Children with low muscle-tone therefore tire easily, or they move about the whole time in an effort to maintain tone and not fall into `resting’.  A muscle with low tone does not register movement as well as a more tensed muscle, and therefore these children appear clumsy and uncoordinated. They frequently over emphasize movement, or use exaggerated movement patterns in an attempt to control it better.

These children tend to like to lie around a lot more than most children. They also find it difficult to maintain one position for long, and they tend to lean on things and to “hang” on things. When sitting in a chair for a while, they tend to slide down in the chair, and sit on the base of their spines (sacral sitting) rather than sitting upright. Since their muscles also tire more quickly, they also often tend to be restless and fidgety. In fact, lowered muscle tone often contributes to concentration difficulties seen in some children. This is because the job of sitting up and paying attention is made far more difficult if keeping a good upright posture takes effort and does not come naturally. It is not uncommon for these children to be fidgety because continual movements helps build up muscle tone, thereby helping them maintain an upright posture, and improve focus.

Lowered muscle tone also impact adversely on the child’s ability to engage in sport and physical activities, particularly those which require endurance. These children are inclined to be a little clumsy as the information received from their joints and muscles is not always accurate.

Sometimes, the tone of the muscles in and around the mouth can also be low, and the child may drool or might have subtle speech difficulties on account of the lowered oral tone.

Activities to improve low muscle tone

  • Push and pull a weighted stroller, laundry basket or box around the house (place phone books, laundry detergent bottles, water bottles, etc inside to add weight)
  • Sit on a chair or bench with no back or side support to help reinforce good posture. An exercise ball works great too!
  • When your child is seated at a table, be sure your child has adequate foot support. Feet should be flat on the floor. If the chair is too high, use a phone book or small stool so that feet rest properly.
  • Have the child sit in a box or laundry basket and give them a ride. Start by moving slowly to make sure you child can use his trunk muscles to maintain balance. Then, move it quickly, starting and stopping, sliding and rocking, side to side and front to back.
  • Reaching activities to improve the ability to stand on toes and raise arms above head. Use magnets placed up high on the refrigerator or reaching up to see that is on a high counter or table. Hold books up high and have your child point to pictures.
  • Jumping games:  help your child by holding under their arms and jump on the floor several times in a row. As their ability improves, support them by holding their hands and start to jump down from a step. A mini trampoline is also great to support early jumping.
  • Bouncing up and down on a large exercise ball while sitting – move them up and down in all directions (front to back and side to side) to engage various postural or “core” muscles.
  • Wheelbarrow walking:  have your child place their hands on the floor, then lift them at their hips so they “walk” on their hands. If they are unable to hold themselves up on their arms, provide some support under the chest. If they are easily able to wheelbarrow walk with support at the hips…try holding them at their knees. Most challenging would be holding at their ankles. Aim to increase the distance they are able to wheelbarrow walk.
  • Climbing onto appropriate furniture or ladders and jungle gyms at the playground.
  • Tape paper up on the wall above eye level and provide crayons or markers. The goal is for the child to color with arm and hand above shoulder height.
  • Squat to pick up heavy items and lift and carry. Children can help unpack groceries and place on countertop or a shelf.  Lift heavy object above shoulder height.
  • One foot balance activities: lift one foot to step on bubbles blown low on the floor, kick a ball, step on and off as small step, step over a small obstacle.
  • Encourage running and chasing games:  you can hold your child’s hand to encourage arm swing and increase speed.
  • Obstacle course – encourage climbing over a mountain of cushions or pillows, crawling under tables and through tunnels or boxes, as well as stepping on or over objects.
  • Animal walks: Bear walk (on hands and feet with bottom in the air), duck walking in a squatting position, jump like a frog, hop like a rabbit.
  • Fun sit-ups:  have you child lie on the floor and his back with bent knees and position yourself at his feet. Have them sit up trying not to use their hands- entice them to sit up to pop bubbles that you are blowing, give you a high five, or touch a designated body part (your nose, elbow, ear, etc)
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