Pediatric Physical Therapy: What is hypotonia?
There are many populations physical therapists work with- orthopedics, geriatrics, neurological, etc. and each has their own commonly treated diagnoses. In the world of pediatric physical therapy, one of the more common diagnoses to see is hypotonia. Muscle tone is defined as the amount of tension or resistance to stretch. Or in other terms, our muscles need to have a certain amount of tone at rest to hold us in the correct posture- to keep some muscles actively engaged in various positions. With lower than usual tone, we tend to see poor posture, especially of the shoulder blades, abdominals, knees and feet. Kids with low tone tend to be able to function fairly-well and meet their developmental milestones although it may be slightly later or with slightly different form than others. A child with low tone tends to look floppy, or sometimes what is called "double jointed."
The bigger question is why is any of this a problem? In some cases, it can be indicative of other conditions like muscular dystrophy or several genetic disorders, but it can also stand alone as its own issue. Low tone canaffect all regions of the body. If the low tone effects the neck and facial muscles you may find issues with head control and swallowing, as well as speech delays/impairments. If it's in the abdominals it may cause potty training troubles (they don't have enough muscle tone to push the bowels along or to sense when the bowels are contracting). You may also see effects on balance and kids with low tone may fall more. They may also report pain because some areas of the body aren't getting enough support and may start to break down.
While low tone may not fully resolve, it has very effective treatments in physical therapy to help with strength, stability and body control. PT's can also asses the need for any support equipment and/or orthotics to help with alignment and positioning.