Hypotonia Treatment Exercises That Help Strengthen Muscles
28 Feb 2023
Hypotonia, also known as floppy infant syndrome or floppy baby syndrome, is a condition characterized by low muscle tone and muscle strength. Although it’s the most commonly occurring condition that impacts an infant’s motor skills, it’s not completely understood.
Seeing your baby struggle to sit upright on their own can be distressing for any parent. Who doesn’t want their baby to be happy, healthy, and strong like any other newborn?
Although hypotonia is worrying, it is treatable. Under the supervision of trained professionals, infants with hypotonia can gain better motor skills and muscle control with physical and speech therapy.
This post will explore what hypotonia is, and the various therapy methods and exercises used to treat it.
What is Hypotonia?
Hypotonia is a medical term that describes unusually low muscle tone in infants and newborns.
Control of the muscles is regulated by signals that travel across the nervous system from the brain; these signals tell which muscles of the body to contract or extend.
Hypotonia occurs when there is damage to the brain, spinal cord, nervous system, or muscle tissue. This damage can originate from physical trauma, environmental factors, or genetic makeup or can be caused by other muscle or nervous system disorders. It is usually diagnosed as a symptom of an underlying diagnosis and is not a condition or disorder on its own.
Common Hypotonia Symptoms
Symptoms of hypotonia are usually observable in infants around six months of age.
Most babies enter the world with basic motor skills, they can chew, raise their head upright, move their hands, and transition into different postures and body positions. Infants with hypotonia struggle with these movements because they don’t have strong arm or leg muscles. They may also struggle to pronounce certain sounds or intonations.
If left untreated, infants with hypotonia will miss important early developmental milestones like the ability to lift their heads while lying down flat.
Other signs of hypotonia include:
Feelings of Limpness: Your baby will show no resistance if you lift their arms and legs, they feel as if they could slip right out of your hands
No Bend in Joints: Healthy babies will usually have a slight bend in their elbows, hips, and knees, even when lying still
Poor Head Control: Your baby is unable to control their neck, and their head flops forward, backward, or to the side
Multi-Pronged Therapy Approach
Finding the right treatment for hypotonia usually depends on diagnosing the condition that’s causing it – and whether it’s caused by nerve damage, trauma, or birth defect.
A trained therapist can create a customized hypotonia treatment plan that includes the use of therapy techniques that will help your infant build muscle tone and/or help vocal chord control.
Physical therapy is an ideal option for relieving pain and helping with motor functions, movement, and overall quality of life for infants with hypotonia.
When treating hypotonia, a physical therapist will develop exercises that will help the infant function and move their body more easily.
Some of the exercises might include:
Heat or cold therapy
Ultrasounds to ease muscle pain and spasms
Physical exercises or stretches guided by the therapist
A therapist might also include speech and language therapy to improve communication skills for infants with hypotonia if they have vocal chord issues. These exercises have the added benefit of treating language disorders and conditions like dyslexia if they are also present.
Speech-language Pathologists (SLPs) identify the speech or language problem the infant might have and determine what’s causing it as well as how to treat it best. Therapy sessions can happen either in a one-on-one setting or in small groups.
Dynamic Movement Intervention
Dynamic Movement Intervention (DMI) Therapy is a comprehensive hypotonia treatment strategy that uses a mix of methodologies that treat a range of problems rather than focusing on one core area.
In DMI Therapy, the therapist improves the infant’s mobility by focusing on alignment, sensory integration, and function. The objective of these sessions is to guide the infant toward reaching important developmental milestones.
Hypotonia Treatment Exercises
Depending on the root cause of hypotonia, treatment plans usually include some form of physical therapy and low-impact exercises that build up the infant’s muscle strength over time.
Bouncing on Therapy Balls
This exercise requires assistance from an adult, usually the therapist. The baby sits on the therapy ball while the therapist bounces them up and down, gently rolling the ball from side to side and front to back. Repeated exercise helps to develop the baby’s core muscles.
Walking Along Balance Beams
In this exercise, the baby is guided along a beam or elevated platform while the therapist holds them by the waist or the hands. This helps the infant build their balancing skills and core stability and overcome the limitations of hypotonia.
Walking along a beam or platform also teaches the infant to correct their balance in response to level or direction changes.
Crawling With Resistance (Ramps, Cushions, etc.)
The therapist guides the infant as they crawl on all fours across different surfaces, at different inclines, or with obstacles in the way. This helps the infant learn to stabilize themselves.
For this exercise, you can use carpets, couches, ramps, pillows, cushions, and steps. Pliable surfaces can add another layer of challenge to the exercise as well if the baby is ready for it.
Squatting or Kneeling Exercises
In addition to the core muscles, hypotonia impairs fine motor skills in the limbs as well. A common physical therapy exercise used for hypotonia includes the use of toys to motivate the baby into picking them up by squatting, kneeling, or bending over.
As an initial step, the infant can use couches to aid in picking up the toys or use their hands and arms to support themselves.
Swimming and Hydrotherapy
Aquatic therapy (or Hydrotherapy), as the name implies, is a kind of physical therapy that makes use of swimming and water aerobics.
Hydrotherapy usually takes place in a heated pool. These low-impact exercises are done in a shallow pool of water to help the baby develop both strength and flexibility. These exercises help build hand-eye coordination, bodily awareness, and motor skills and find new ways to move different sets of muscles.
Moving while supported by water, aids the baby as they learn to move themselves and offset the challenges of gravity. This makes it easier for the baby to move using less effort.
Treatment and Physical Therapy Success Stories
Hypotonia is a lifelong condition. That means that treating it isn’t about finding a cure but about managing the symptoms. Your baby may not be able to do some of the things that other babies can at their age, but you can expect to see huge improvements in their motor functioning and overall quality of life than they would otherwise.
The earlier treatment begins, the better. Patients can see results from physical and speech and language therapy after just a few months of training, with a few sessions a week.
Total Education Solutions has facilitated many success stories using pediatric physical therapy for related conditions that are often comorbid with hypotonia.
This was the case with a mother of a 12-month-old child with cerebral palsy and hypotonia who came to TES for treatment with Brittany, one of our specialized therapists.
“It is very comforting as a mother to know that my son is in good hands, that Brittany goes above and beyond to provide us resources and guidance, plus the hands-on therapy she provides twice a week. I rave about her not having met her but only corresponding via email, which is a lifesaving tool for a parent who works f/t.”
Many of the treatment strategies and exercises we use for hypotonia are the same ones we use for Cuevas Medek Therapy.
Our therapists make custom treatment plans that treat children as individuals rather than reducing them to a condition. One parent Ricardo and his son Benny said as much after working with TES therapists for two years.
“I just love how everyone there treats him. He is not treated like just another client. Even after he aged out of Regional Center, we made the decision to extend his therapy sessions through our insurance so that he could continue to receive the same great care and continue to improve.”
Over time, regular physical therapy sessions can help your baby learn to make the most of their condition – or even make it work for them! Leah G., who worked with one of our occupational therapists, James, can attest to that:
“They have helped my son grow and learn how to turn his “disability” into a “different ability.” His sessions are always engaging and informative. Our occupational therapist, James, has gone above and beyond to help my son.”
Hypotonia Treatments Can Keep Your Infant Happy and Healthy
Total Education Solutions offers pediatric occupational therapy and speech therapy in most of our locations. DMI Therapy is also on offer in our Downtown LA and Alhambra locations in Southern California.
Teaching your baby how to control their muscle movements and build their muscle tone can help them develop like any other infant. Watching your baby struggle to move is upsetting for any parent who just wants the best for their child. Get in touch with us today, and together we’ll make that possible.
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