Muscle tone refers to the stiffness, or tone, of muscles. The various postural muscles of the body (supporting the spine and pelvis i.e. the trunk) are crucially important in helping us sit up properly and adjust our body position while we carry out daily activities. In children this becomes especially important as weakness in these trunk muscles can stunt development and lead to learning and concentration problems.
Some neurological conditions create low muscle tone due to areas of the brain being affected in-utero, during or after birth. These children generally need therapeutic intervention early on and may require years of exercise therapy to help correctly stimulate the brain and body to function as well as possible. However, more common, is low muscle tone from disuse: children are not as active anymore and so these muscles do not have a chance to develop and strengthen the way they should.
This can lead to critical developmental milestones being delayed (such as crawling, sitting up and walking) or if the child is already entering a school environment they may battle to concentrate on their lessons as their trunk muscles are unable to keep them sitting up – the resulting slouched posture interferes with concentration and therefore learning. These children will need occupational and exercise therapy to correct the muscle tone and help them catch up to their peers and age-appropriate motor ability.
Biokinetics can assist the low muscle tone child alongside their occupational therapy by providing stimulating exercises which can be done at home as well to develop as much strength as possible. Swimming is often a great activity as it requires the use of entire body’s muscles plus motor coordination to correctly achieve a buoyant body position and stroke pattern. I usually combine swimming teaching with hydrotherapy when dealing with children in the pool: children learn best through play and positive reinforcement i.e. if they are having fun and don’t even notice the session is about therapy then their hard work does not feel like hard work and they are rewarded through praise and having fun.