Hypotonia is a medical term used to describe poor or decreased muscle tone, and it’s sometimes also known as floppy
muscle syndrome. Rather
than being a disease in itself, hypotonia is often a symptom of an underlying condition.
Hypotonia roughly translates to “lowered muscle tone and muscle tension”. As healthy muscle tone is what enables us to move, control our
posture, walk, and carry out everyday tasks, hypotonia that affects the feet and legs can have significant impacts on a person’s
independence, mobility and quality of life.
In healthy individuals, the fibres of a muscle overlap in a way that they can easily pull on one another and contract the muscle when required, moving your body in the way you need. In hypotonia, the muscle fibres do not overlap in the same way, and more force and energy is needed to move the muscle. This means that people with hypotonia often struggle with weakened muscles and reduced strength. There may also be problems between the signals that travel from the brain to the nerves which tell the muscles when to contract, and by how much.
Hypotonia can affect people at any age, and it affects people differently at different stages of life.
Signs of hypotonia in babies and children may include:
Signs of hypotonia at any age may include:
Hypotonia can be caused by damage to the brain, spinal cord, nerves, or muscles, and this damage can be the result of injury, illness, environmental factors, or genetic, muscle, or central nervous system disorders, including:
Sometimes, children are born with hypotonia that isn’t related to any condition, which is called benign congenital hypotonia. In other cases, a cause for hypotonia is a mystery, and cannot be identified.
Diagnosing hypotonia usually involves an assessment which looks at motor and sensory skills, balance and coordination, reflexes, and nerves. Diagnostic tests that may be helpful include a CT or MRI scan of the brain, as well as nerve conduction tests and measuring electrical activity in the brain.
Once an accurate diagnosis has been made, medical specialists including podiatrists can address a person’s unique symptoms, and create a tailored treatment plan to relieve symptoms and help patients to achieve their movement, mobility and independence goals, and live the life they love.
It’s reassuring to know that not all cases of hypotonia require treatment - some premature babies who are born with hypotonia may recover by themselves as they grow. In other cases, managing hypotonia depends on the underlying cause, and can involve a wide range of strategies:
When working with patients with hypotonia, podiatrists often work collaboratively with other health professionals including occupational therapists and speech and language therapists, among others.
In severe cases, surgical interventions may be required to assist patients who:
Experience frequent dislocations, joint weakness and slipping or subluxations
What is muscle tone?
Understanding muscle tone is crucial for understanding hypotonia. Muscle tone is the amount of tension in a muscle when it’s at rest. Muscle tone at rest is a very different concept from muscle strength - muscle tone is passive, and denotes your natural muscle tension when you’re resting and not engaging the muscle.
Are people with hypotonia more likely to develop foot pain?
Yes they can be. This is because they tend to have a naturally flatter foot posture, and their muscles have to work much harder to take each step and perform their regular movements. This can lead to pain and overuse, while creating other compensations in the feet and legs.
What is the outlook for children with hypotonia - will they walk, run or play sports?
Every case is different so we cannot say for 100% certainty, but many children with hypotonia do walk - even if it’s a little later and there are some detours along the way. We work with every person in the exact stage they’re at to help support them for the best outcomes for the future.
Are you a registered NDIS provider?
Absolutely. Under NDIS we can offer you a range of devices such as custom foot orthotics, AFOs and custom braces under the assistive technology support. For many people, this greatly improves their mobility, independence and quality of life.