Low Muscle Tone - Its Meaning And Symptoms

The Meaning Of Low Muscle Tone - Muscle tone is a measure of the amount of resistance to movement in a muscle. Low muscle tone means that resistance to movement by a muscle is lacking to some degree. Muscle tone can also be described in terms of the amount of tension present in a muscle. In terms of tension, those having this muscle tone problem would tend to experience limpness or floppiness in their muscles. The medical term for low muscle tone is hypotonia, which literally means lacking in tone. Muscle tone is not to be confused with muscle strength. Here, we are talking about the ability, or lack of it, to contract a muscle, and not bodybuilding. When a muscle is lacking in tone, it tends to contract slowly instead of rapidly in response to stimuli. The muscle may not even contract fully, or it be able to maintain a state of contraction and may relax completely midway through the contraction.

Much has been written about the presence of hypotonia in infants. Adults can experience it as well, but the condition is more easily diagnosed in infants. There are many different things that can cause hypotonia. In some cases the cause is congenital, while in other cases it is acquired. Just how or why the condition exists is most often somewhat of a mystery, which can make treatment difficult and in many instances render it ineffective.

Children who are born with a muscle tone problem often outgrow it, though some may not. Therapy that is designed with the purpose of getting a youngster into the habit of using his or her muscles may help, even though there does not appear to be a great deal of scientific evidence that therapy does indeed help. Still, anything that will encourage an affected person to use their muscles to the best of their ability appears to have a positive effect in many instances.

Genetic Causes - Of the several genetic disorders known to cause hypotonia, the most well known is   Down syndrome. Down syndrome is also the most common genetic cause of the condition. Another of the more well-known causes is genetic hypothyroidism. Most of the other genetic causes tend to be little known syndromes or diseases that are quite rare.

Acquired Causes - The acquired causes of hypotonia are more widely known, and either infants or adults can be affected. Some of the more common causes of the condition include muscular dystrophy, which is the most common cause, along with meningitis, encephalitis, poliomyelitis, hypothyroidism, and one of a number of dysfunctions affecting the central nervous system.

Common Symptoms Of Hypotonia - Low muscle tone is particularly noticeable in an infant, as it may have trouble keeping its head up, lifting its arms, or even kicking. Learning to walk can be quite difficult, and the infant may feel somewhat like a rag doll when picked up. In many, and possibly most cases, the child's muscles eventually grow stronger, but it may take a child affected with hypotonia significantly longer to learn how to walk, and some may never be able to do so. An adult suffering from the condition is often able to cope with the situation, but an infant or toddler has not learned how to cope with the situation, and may have a great deal of trouble holding his or her head upright or maintaining his or her balance when walking.

The condition can vary a great deal in terms of severity. Adults who have low muscle tone may lead a normal life style, except their legs may tire more easily than normal, especially when involved in strenuous activities. Day to day, they may experience little in the way of  symptoms, but going on a lengthy hike while carrying a backpack may be out of the question.

The Benefits Of Therapy – A Disagreement - There are many cases of children who have either been born with hypotonia, or acquired it at an early age, who seem to have benefited from therapy that encouraged them to use their muscles, causing the parents to disagree with the belief of some that therapy is not necessarily of any value. The affected child may or may not be able to participate in strenuous sports at some later date, but at least may no longer experience the more severe symptoms of the condition. The argument could be made that in some of these children the condition would have lessened or disappeared over time in any event. It does seem however that therapy can speed up the rate of improvement. Young children with the disorder will sometimes be slower in developing their fine motor skills, and some may be slow learners, at least during their early years.

If an infant is suspected of having low muscle tone due to genetic causes, it is strongly advised that he or she be examined by knowledgeable medical professionals, and as early as possible. The same would be true if the condition is acquired, but in this latter case the diagnosis would be more apt to be able to dictate the preferred treatment or type of therapy needed.