Have you heard your child being described as having “low muscle tone” but wonder what on earth does it mean?!
It’s a question that’s often raised with Occupational Therapists, and can typically be confused with low muscle strength. We’re going to break down what muscle tone is, why it’s important and provide some activity suggestions which can be done at home to help your child.
Three Categories of Muscle Tone
- Refers to the “just right” amount on tension inside the muscle during rest. Primarily, the muscle is able to contract on command, for example, your muscle does what you want when you want!
- It also refers to the appropriate amount of force being utilised when performing specific movements.
- Refers to an excessive amount of tension in the muscle during rest. The muscle is portrayed as “tight” and “tense” when not performing any movements.
- There is not enough tension in the muscle during rest. The muscle may be observed to be “floppy” and have a lack of control when being used.
- A child with low muscle tone may need to exert more effort when doing an activity to activate their muscles and create a greater range of motion.
Why is Muscle Tone Important?
Muscle tone affects the postural control and postural stability of individuals. Both of these combined provide the body with a “stable background” in controlling our bodies movements, specifically when staying upright.
Our postural stability develops in 3 core areas of our body, these include:
- Shoulder Girdle; and
Many children and adolescents with low muscle tone, will frequently appear to slouch over when seated at the table and have difficulty maintaining an upright posture when seated on the floor. A lack of endurance in both fine motor and gross motor activities is evident, as games requiring coordinated and controlled movements can be difficult.
If you notice your child is lacking good postural stability, then subsequently they will find gross motor, fine motor, and coordination tasks challenging.
Signs of Low Muscle Tone
- Children may seem flaccid when lifted;
- Increased flexibility in their joints;
- Poor posture;
- Low endurance – due to the increase in effort required to activate their muscles;
- Lacks appropriate body awareness feedback;
- Preference to engage in sedentary activities;
- Delays in reaching gross motor milestones e.g. rolling, sitting, crawling and walking; and
- Slouching when seated.
It is important to know that muscle tone is different from muscle strength. Muscle tone is the natural underlying level of contraction that a child has in their muscles. However, muscle strength involves the ability of the muscles to generate force against resistance.
Low muscle tone CANNOT be changed. But your child’s muscle strength, motor control and physical endurance can be changed with the appropriate form of intervention.
The following are a list of exercises which can be performed throughout your therapy sessions, at home or in the community. Encourage your child to do a warm-up activity before doing an everyday activity.
General Warm-up Activities:
- Mini trampoline – encourage your child to bounce to loud upbeat music and keep them interested by varying how they bounce. For example, doing star jumps, scissor jumps, jumping forwards and backwards, bouncing down on their knees and back up.
- Wheelbarrow walks – hold your child at her hips or knees whilst she walks on her hands. Motivate your child by encouraging her to go further each time. Vary the activity by making them walk around different obstacles or carry a favourite toy on their back.
- Space hopper – encourage your child to bounce on a space hopper in the backyard or up and down the hallway.
- Running on the spot, stomping, star jumps, skipping with a skipping rope.
- Animal walks – bear walks, crab walks, elephant stomps, snake slither, bunny hops – make it fun by setting up an obstacle course, relay or race.
- Tug of war
- Play ball games – catching, throwing, bouncing, aiming at targets.
Arm and Hand Activities
- Playdough, plasticine or theraputty – roll, pinch, squeeze, pound and make sausages, balls and pinch pots.
- Place a ball in some old stockings and hang it from the clothesline or a tree branch – Get your child to hold onto a rolling pin with both hands, and hit a balloon or ball. Gradually increase the number of repetitions to increase their strength and endurance.
- Paper scrunch – scrunch up sheets of newspaper into balls. Make really small tight, paper balls and have your child throw or flick them into the bin.
- Squeeze soft balls, sponges or face washers – encourage him to squeeze 10 times or as many times as he can in one minute to make it fun.
- Peg push-ups – see how many peg push-ups your child can do in 1 minute.
- Tong relay – pick up small toys or objects with a pair of tongs and run and place them in a container.
- Dig a small patch in the garden.
- Arm wrestles – sit opposite your child with elbows on the table. Hold each other’s hands and encourage your child to push against your resistance. Alternatively, try thumb wrestling.
- Stand opposite your child and place the palms of your hands against your child’s hands. Try pushing each other over.
- Carrying shopping bags/household items.
Remember, if you have any questions, queries, or simply need to chat, give us a call on 02 9913 3823 ☎
If you’d like more ideas on supporting your child’s Muscle tone at home, we’ve got activities to help them improve their pencil grip which you can print over here.