Toddler Q&A Her muscles are soft
Q: My paediatrician told me at my 18-month-old daughter’s checkup recently that she has low muscle tone. What do I do? A: Kerry Wallace responds:
Children who present with differences in muscle tone are flagged by informed paediatricians, as it can be associated with physical and possibly learning challenges, but also can be an isolated phenomenon, and merely a normal variation in an otherwise typically developing child. The main problem is not the low muscle tone itself, but the functional issues that can be associated with it.
The main functional problem is low endurance and muscle fatigue. It takes a whole lot more effort to activate muscles, and to maintain an upright posture, when you are born with this variation from the norm.
A physiotherapist or occupational therapist with postgraduate training in neurodevelopmental therapy (NDT) can assist your child to develop the core muscles that keep the skeleton in alignment. Usually functional improvements will be seen in the first six weeks to three months of treatment, and unless there are other associated issues, after six months your child should be able to function more or less on a par with his or her peers.
Low muscle tone is a fact of life. If you are born with it you will have to live with it into adulthood and old age and deal with the biomechanical challenges associated with it like a stiff neck or sore back. It will take more effort to activate muscles and to remain fit and have good posture.
Assisting your child from early on by creating a lifestyle that incorporates an active daily regime including physical activity – climbing, jumping or ball games – is highly recommended. Sitting on toddler-sized chairs, where the feet touch the ground, for meals and for short periods during table-top and fine motor or creative activities rather than slouching in front of the TV will help maintain posture and muscle tone for life. YB
Kerry Wallace Occupational therapist