hypotonia (low muscle tone) in kids – everything you need to know

by Aculbertson


Surestep profileWill my child have a normal life?

What will this mean for his/her future?

How can I help?

If you’ve recently received the hypotonia diagnosis, your head is probably swimming with these sorts of questions. And that’s ok. Your child will need extra help and patience at times, but that doesn’t mean he or she can’t achieve great things.

Here are some of the basics you need to know:

What is hypotonia?

It goes by several names. Hypotonia is the medical term, but low muscle tone and floppy baby syndrome are also common. No matter which words you use, the definition is the same. 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. And because of these obstacles, many kids reach milestones (grabbing, crawling, cruising, etc.) more slowly than others.

It’s also a spectrum. Both the severity and parts of the body low muscle tone impacts can differ from child to child.


Is my child just weak?

No, there’s a big difference between muscle tone and muscle strength.

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.

But weakness and low tone are linked. Strength naturally develops as muscles are used. However, kids with hypotonia compensate for their lack of stability by using muscles and joints in unique ways. This 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 signs listed below, consider discussing them with your pediatrician. Intervention at an early age can keep your child from falling too far behind developmentally.

Everyone will be different, but symptoms may include:

  • Pronation
  • 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.)

Symptoms of hypotonia (low muscle tone)


Will my child ever walk?

Although there are rare examples of low muscle tone that confines a person to bed or a wheelchair, the answer for the vast majority of kids is an emphatic, well-deserved, and tear producing yes!


What causes low muscle tone?

It’s helpful to think of hypotonia as a symptom rather than a diagnosis.

600+ conditions have been linked to it. Some are relatively common, such as Down syndrome. Other are much rarer and difficult to pin down. Even with testing, getting a definitive diagnosis is not guaranteed.

Here are just a few of the conditions that may cause your child’s low muscle tone:

  • Down syndrome
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Prader-Willi syndrome
  • Angelman syndrome
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
  • Osteogenesis imperfecta
  • Joubert syndrome

What is benign congenital hypotonia?

But not all instances can be linked to an overarching diagnosis. Sometimes it’s a condition all on its own. This is called benign congenital hypotonia.

Will my child outgrow it?

No. Muscle tone does not change. It won’t just go away.

That’s why it’s vital to deal with the condition head-on by getting the right treatment as early as possible. Just remember that although it may be an obstacle, your child is resilient.

Is there a cure for hypotonia?

There is no cure for hypotonia. Surgery, medication, or exercise won’t “fix” your child’s muscle tone. But there are treatment options to help your child adapt and thrive.


What are the treatment options for hypotonia?

If you think your child may have low muscle tone, the best place to start is with your pediatrician. Share your concerns. He or she will likely send you to a physical therapist.

And while therapy is a great solution, for many kids it isn’t enough. Pediatric orthotics work well as a complement to PT while providing your child with proper alignment and confidence.

Image of a girl with hypotonia who wears Surestep SMOs

One in particular, the Surestep SMO, revolutionized orthotic treatment for kids with hypotonia. Unlike more rigid alternatives, Surestep SMOs are made of uniquely flexible plastic. This, along with our innovative design, allows greater freedom of movement and more natural development. Your child’s feet will feel supported rather than just held in place.

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