hypotonia (low muscle tone) – an overview for parents

by Aculbertson

Whether you’re new to the world of hypotonia or simply need a refresher, here’s a brief overview:

What Is Hypotonia?

It goes by several names. Hypotonia is the medical term, but it’s also commonly referred to as low muscle tone and floppy baby syndrome. No matter which words are used, they all mean the same thing. It’s simply a lack of tone in muscles, which can make them look and feel too relaxed.

Kids with low tone are sometimes compared to rag dolls. Limp limbs. Soft tissue. Decreased stability. This often results in them reaching milestones (grabbing, crawling, cruising, etc.) more slowly or not at all.

However, there’s an important distinction. Hypotonia is not the same thing as weakness. Your child is not weak. What he or she lacks is stability, not strength. And because of this, movements we consider easy can be both difficult and exhausting.

Imagine learning everyday movements like walking without the predictable amount of stability you’ve come to rely on. You know what you want to do. Your muscles just can’t always deliver.

But weakness and low tone are linked. Strength naturally develops as muscles are used more and more. However, kids with hypotonia compensate for their lack of stability by using muscles and joints in unique ways, which can leave some muscles ignored or underused. For example, if your child w-sits, he or she will not properly develop core strength.

Symptoms Of Hypotonia In Kids

Low muscle tone is often identified early in life, sometimes even at birth. If your child shows multiple symptoms listed below, consider discussing them with your doctor. Early intervention may keep your child from falling too far behind developmentally.

Everyone will be different, but symptoms may include:

  • Impaired mobility
  • Poor posture
  • Breathing & feeding difficulties
  • Delayed speech
  • Poor reflexes
  • Ligament & joint laxity
  • Walking with a wide base
  • Delayed gross motor skills development (crawling, jumping, etc.)
  • Delayed fine motor skills development (grabbing toys, moving objects between hands, etc.)

What Causes Hypotonia?

Many conditions may cause hypotonia. Identifying the root cause can give your kiddo the help he or she needs. For some, it is a condition all on its own and is not linked to any other problem. This is called congenital hypotonia.

But for other kids, it’s a symptom of an overarching diagnosis. Here are just a few of the over 600 conditions known to cause hypotonia:

  • Down syndrome
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Angelman syndrome
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Ehler-Danlos syndrome
  • Osteogenesis imperfecta
  • Joubert syndrome

Will My Child Outgrow It?


Muscle tone does not change. Physical therapy, exercise, and orthoses can help, but your child will never outgrow it. That’s why it’s vital to deal with the condition head-on.

What Treatment Options Are There For Hypotonia?

Each case of hypotonia is unique. And because of this, a single solution is not right for everyone. Your physical therapist will develop a treatment plan catered to your kiddo.

One option may be a brace from the wide range of pediatric orthoses designed by Surestep.

Our most popular product, the Surestep SMO, revolutionized orthotic management for children with hypotonia thanks to its patented design and flexible plastic. This isn’t a traditional, rigid orthosis. Its unique compression system offers flexibility while at the same time providing the stability your child needs.

Although hypotonia may slow your child down, it doesn’t have to define his or her life. Intervention can help propel your child forward towards the next milestone.

Learn more about Surestep SMOs