Low muscle tone is a common problem in children with autism.
But children on the spectrum are not the only ones affected by the Floppy Baby Syndrome or medically known as hypotonia. Other kids and people belonging to the special populations like those with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome can also become affected with a low muscle. This also includes people with sensory processing disorder and those with muscular dystrophy.
What is muscle tone exactly?
Muscle tone refers to the state of your muscles when they are at rest.
Do you ever get that feeling of sinking into the couch after a long day? Or you simply feel tired that you don’t have the motivation to get unless you really need to?
That’s your muscles at rest.
For people or children with a low muscle tone, that feeling of “not being able” to get up because their muscles feel like sinking into anything – like you for instance – is always constant.
Muscle tone is a crucial aspect of our muscular system that often goes unnoticed until there’s an issue. It is defined as the intrinsic tension or resistance that muscles exhibit when they are at rest. While at rest, muscles are never truly relaxed; instead, they maintain a baseline level of contraction to keep them ready for action. This tension provides the muscles with a certain firmness and readiness, ensuring that they can respond promptly when needed.
To delve a bit deeper into the concept of muscle tone, it’s important to understand that there are different types of muscle tone. There’s normal muscle tone, which allows for flexibility, strength, and responsiveness to movement. On the other hand, abnormally low muscle tone, often referred to as hypotonia, can be a cause of concern. People with hypotonia experience weakened muscles that may feel floppy, and they might have difficulty with activities that require muscle strength and stability.
What does low muscle tone means?
To simply understand, low muscle tone refers to floppy muscles – like with a baby.
Babies feel like springy all the time which is why they need constant support to stay put.
Springy and squishy babies are great for cuddling. But if you have a child or you’re an adult with a low muscle tone, it can be a problem since it would mean that you can’t support yourself.
A person with a low muscle tone doesn’t have the energy to move their arms or legs in a stable manner since it’s harder for them to activate their muscles.
Since muscle tone is also needed to keep a proper posture, people with a low muscle tone can have difficulty doing simple things like sitting or standing.
Early in the developmental stage, children with a low muscle tone will show difficulty or delays in rolling, crawling, sitting or walking.
Other signs of low muscle tone
But low muscle tone is not something you just observe with babies.
Children with autism who also have a low muscle tone can experience the following problems to name a few:
- Poor posture
- Poor muscle strength
- Low endurance
You already know why poor posture is a problem.
Limping in people with low muscle tone happens because their muscles can’t support their movements.
Poor muscle strength happens since a low muscle tone needs more energy to activate the muscles. Even a simple activity such as holding a ball or a pencil can be difficult because they lack the strength to do so. Because of this, children with hypotonia easily get tired because of the extra effort that they need to get moving.
But every dark cloud has a silver lining.
While poor muscle tone cannot be avoided in some conditions like autism, CP and Down syndrome, there is one thing you can do to improve it.
By now you probably know the answer:
Check it out: Strengthening exercises for Down Syndrome
How to treat low muscle tone in autism
Some people with poor muscle tones generally improve over time.
But there are some who suffer from this condition even into adulthood without proper treatment and support.
Since low muscle tone is a generally characterized by weak muscles, the best way to treat them is to strengthen your muscles.
When your muscles are strong, it’s easier to active them for movement. When this happens, moving becomes easier and children with this condition only need a “little” help to get them moving.
The importance of core strength
Now there are plenty of exercises you can do to help strengthen your muscles.
But of all these exercise, you should mainly focus on core strength.
Unlike popular belief, your core is more than just the place where you find abs displayed in so many billboards.
Your core actually involves different areas that includes your abdomen (think abs if you want), your pelvis, your glutes, your hips and also your back muscles. As an article puts it, the core is the “sturdy central link” of your body.
This group of muscles working together is essential to help you maintain proper posture and good balance. More importantly, they’re the muscles responsible to help you move through daily activities without any problem.
When you have a strong core, then you get better stability. Better stability means you get to get moving without worrying about falling or getting “floppy” as is the case with a low muscle tone.
Even better news is that exercising your core doesn’t have to be complicated.
It’s good if you can get to exercise with trained specialists like ones at Special Strong. But just in case a day at the gym is not yet possible, here are some exercises you can do at home to help with low muscle tone in autism.
Top 5 In-Home Exercises for Low Muscle Tone in Autism
The plank is a common core exercise. It also looks simple, but is one of the hardest – yet best – exercises you can do to strengthen your core.
Kids with autism can still do the plank for a certain period of time, say 30 seconds for starters.
The good thing about this exercise is it helps strengthen your spine and abdominal muscles so you gain more strength. It also improves posture to help you avoid back problems, including pain when moving.
If you’re not yet up for a minute of plank, you can always hold it at an interval of 20 seconds before resting a bit to do another set.
If you can’t do the forearm plant yet, you can opt for the knee plank for better support then graduate to the forearm plank when your core gets stronger.
Bear Crawl Shoulder Tap
The bear crawl shoulder tap exercise for low muscle tone is one of the easiest exercises you can do from this post.
Start by being on all fours. Gaze on the floor and keep you neck at a comfortable position. Tap your left shoulder with your right hand and vice versa.
Keep your hips as straight or still as possible as you do this exercise.
Do this for 10 reps or more if you want.
Autism or not, this exercise is very common among kids since it’s easy to do. Thus, this exercise doesn’t feel like exercise at all!
So first, you need a bed or a mat on the floor to lie on your back.
With your knees bent, lift your hips off the floor to create a straight line. Make sure that your knees and shoulders are in a straight line.
This core strengthening exercise can be fun for your kids because they get to be “Superman.” Only, they get to do it on the floor.
Lying on your front, extend your arms and legs. Then raise your head, right arm and left leg and hold the position for about 3-5 seconds.
All you have to do is repeat the movement again but with your opposite arm and leg this time.
You can do this for 10 reps.
Another easy exercise, leg raises help you strengthen your abdominal and hip muscles. If you have a problem sitting properly or you suffer with a bad posture, doing this exercise can help give you more flexibility.
All you have to do is lie face up with your arms and legs relaxed.
Keep your legs together and slowly raise them together towards the ceiling. Keep your legs as straight as possible then slowly lower them again once you reach the maximum height you can reach.
As you do this, make sure your lower back is flat on the floor.
Do this for at least 5-10 reps depending on how long you can hold it.
People with low muscle tone can easily get tired, right?
That’s a good question right there.
Children and people in the spectrum who also suffer from low muscle tone easily gets tired.
But that’s all because of untrained muscles.
Untrained muscles are weak. And weak muscles tend to get painful or experience more pain when they need to move. To help with this, you need to strengthen your muscles. There is no other way to strengthen your muscles except through exercise.
Which is why it’s also important that you do warm-ups.
Before you start with any low muscle tone exercises, encourage your child to do warm-ups every day to build their endurance.
If you don’t have any idea about warm up activities, we made a short list for you:
- Arm wrestles – yes, that favorite game of yours actually builds muscle resistance and endurance which someone with a low muscle tone lacks.
- Crawls – you can do any type of crawling activities like bear walks or crab walks and just let them have their fun.
- Star jumps – a perfect exercise to help your child with ASD activate all their muscles. It’s just jumping jack with a better name to get them to do the activity with you.
- Running or jogging – whether in place or outside your home where there’s fresh air, it doesn’t matter. Both these exercises are a great warm up for any type of physical activity.
- Tug of war – you can make this activity varied by doing it kneeling down or sitting. Of course, there’s the option of playing tug of war with them while standing.
- Ball games – get your child not just to throw the ball but to bounce, catch or aim it at targets. Make the last part a fun activity for them.
- Paper scrunch – if you have old newspapers or just about any paper at home, use it and have your child scrunch up the papers into balls. Then have them shoot it into a bin for some more warm up and exercise.
Once you’ve taken your pick from these exercises, then you can proceed with the top 5 in-home exercises we’ve listed to improve your child’s low muscle tone.