Muscle tone is a term utilized to describe the resting state of our muscles. Muscle tone contributes to the amount of control, speed and movements our bodies can perform. Low muscle tone or hypotonia requires more effort to activate one’s muscles when performing gross motor movements. Due to the increased amount of energy it takes to “wake up” or activate their muscles, children with low muscle tone tend to fatigue easier or have lower endurance. Some signs of low muscle tone include: increased flexibility in joints, seem limp, often leaning or propping when sitting or standing, low endurance or tire easy with activity, muscle weakness, poor posture, delays in gross or fine motor milestones. When a child presents with low core activation and low muscle tone, it can impact their ability to achieve gross and fine motor milestones and participation in activities of daily living.
Core muscle development and rotational 3-dimensional movements are needed for endurance and power, before precision of muscle control (fine motor skills) can be achieved. If deep core muscles are not used when required in movement and body stability, then finer distal movements will fatigue very quickly since they are not designed for stability but for precision. Further motor skill development is dependent upon having a stable core to work off of that is able to activate and maintain control in multiple planes. Efficient use of righting, rotation, midline stability, and equilibrium are functions that are critical foundations for self-organization, attention in toward the body, and building fine and gross motor patterns.
Activities to help increase your child’s muscle tone and core strength/posture include:
Gross motor movement prior to seated activities: It is important to “wake up” the muscles prior to seated activities to prevent slouching or propping. Jumping on a trampoline, animal walks, jumping jacks, running, wheel barrow walks, crab walk, skipping, static holding postures like yoga, etc. prior to seated activities can help improve a child’s muscle activation and attention when completing seated table top activities.
Positioning: Notice the positions your child is sitting in while engaged in table top, mealtimes, or play activities. To increase core activation, ensure your child it not propping or leaning on items as they are engaged. Encourage the 90-90-90 rule for 90 degrees support at the hips, knees, and ankles. Ensure when engaged in fine motor precision activities your child’s feet are fully supported – this starts in infancy in a high chair!
Alternate seating and play positions:
• Prone on your belly, propped on forearms while engaged in floor play
• Quadruped or crawling position
• Tall kneeling (up on two knees)
• Half kneeling
• Long leg sitting
• Side sitting
• Criss-cross applesauce
• Wiggly cushion
Core exercises : Use of dynamic and static holding postures can help increase core musculature and muscle tone. Using dynamic items like stabilizing on a swing, using a therapy ball to sit or perform core exercise on, crab walks, superman, crunches, wheelbarrow walks and more all require a child to stabilize while part of their body is moving. Static holding postures such as yoga poses, egg hold, bridge and plank all challenge a child to stabilize and hold postures for a given amount of time.
Every movement our bodies make derive from the core. Proximal stability from the trunk will increase output for distal mobility and greater support for refining fine motor skills.