Hypotonia is a state of poor muscle tone, usually seen at birth or during infancy. To function normally, our muscles receive signal from our nerves, known as motor nerves. Muscle tone is regulated by brain through the signals that travels to the nerves from the brain, which tells the muscle to contract. It is different from muscle weakness; though both the conditions can co-exist.
When a child has hypotonia, the infant may not be able to keep his/her elbows and knees slightly bent. It cannot be called a specific medical disorder, but can be described as the manifestation of a different disease or disorder that affects the motor nerves controlled by the brain. When the child has hypotonia, he / she may continue to struggle with motor skills as well as feeding.
Symptoms Of Hypotonia
It often becomes difficult to know the exact cause of hypotonia. Children having this condition during birth, infancy or shortly after may have symptoms like no or little head control, or floppy quality which means their legs and arms hang by their sides. They may have problem with posture and mobility, lack of strength, breathing difficulty, speech difficulties, learning difficulties, poor reflexes and hyper flexibility. In some infants, it delays gross motor skill development like walking or crawling and fine motor skill development like grasping something.
Causes Of Hypotonia
Hypotonia can be triggered from damage to the nerves, brain, spinal cord or muscles. The possible reasons for the damage could be from environmental factors, injury, central nervous system disorder, muscular system disorder or genetic disorder. For instance, it could result from muscular dystrophy, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, myotonic dystrophy and some other disease. Hypotonia caused by the conditions that affects the central nervous system, brain or muscles include brain damage, most often due to lack of oxygen during the time of birth, cerebral palsy which involves neurological problems at the time of birth that affects the child’s movement as well as co-ordination and muscular dystrophy.
On the other hand, hypotonia that is caused by genetic conditions include Down’s syndrome, which is a genetic disorder at birth time that affects physical development and often cause learning difficulties, Tay-Sachs disease which is rare yet fatal genetic disorder that usually damages nervous system, or Prader-Willi syndrome that is a genetic condition can cause number of symptoms like restricted growth, learning difficulties and even permanent hunger. Sometimes children are born with hypotonia.
Children with Down’s syndrome may benefit from occupational, physical and speech therapy that can help the child with muscle tone and development. Minor learning disabilities and development delays may continue life long in some children.
Treatment For Hypotonia
The treatment for hypotonia largely depends on the underlying cause. Hypotonia caused by premature birth may improve with the baby’s growth. But you have to take a specialist’s help and carry on the recommended therapy. Hypotonia in babies from mothers who have weakness in muscles can be treated taking the help of specialists. Hypotonia caused due to infection can also be treated successfully if the infection is addressed timely. The treatment plan also varies depending on child’s general health condition and ability to participate in therapies. When the underlying cause of hypotonia cannot be cured, two main treatment plans are usually recommended. They are physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
Physiotherapy helps to improve co-ordination and posture and strengthen the muscles of arms, legs and joints with series of exercise designed specifically for improving muscle tone on a daily basis.
This treatment is carried out to improve the child’s ability to carry out day to day activities like dressing, eating etc.
Speech And Language Therapy (SLT)
When the child has speech and language problems associated with hypotonia, he or she is recommended this therapy to gain control over the jaw and mouth muscles.
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