Is Low Muscle Tone A Sensory Processing Issue?

Only if you think that sensing your body’s position and being able to perceive the degree/quality of your movement is sensory-based.  I’m being silly; of course low tone creates sensory processing issues.

It isn’t the same sensory profile as the child who can’t pay attention when long sleeves brush his skin, nor the child who cannot tolerate the bright lights and noise at his brother’s basketball games.  Having difficulty perceiving your foot position on a step, or not knowing how much force you are using on a pencil can make life a challenge.  Sensory processing issues mean that the brain isn’t interpreting the sensory information it receives, or that the information it receives is inadequate.

That is the situation with low muscle tone.  Low tone reduces the amount of joint and muscle receptor firing because these receptors need either pressure or stretch to activate.  If it is not in a sufficient quantity, the receptors will not fire in time or in large enough numbers to alert the brain that a change has occurred. Therefore, the brain cannot create an appropriate response to the situation.   What does this look like?  Your child slowly sliding off the side of a chair but not noticing it, or your child grinding her crayon into the paper until it rips, then crying because she has ruined another Rapunzel picture.

Muscle tone is a tricky thing to change, since it is mediated by the lower parts of the brain.  That means it is not under conscious control.  You cannot meditate your way to normal tone, and you can’t strengthen your way there either.  Strength and tone are entirely different.  Getting and keeping strength around joints is a very important goal for anyone with low tone, and protecting ligaments from injury is too.  Stronger muscles will provide more active contraction and therefore pressure, but when at rest, they are not going to respond any differently.

Therapists have some strategies to improve tone for functional activities, but they have not been proven to alter the essential cause of low muscle tone.  Even vestibular activities, the big guns of the sensory gym, can only alter the level of tone for a short period during and after their use.   The concept of a sensory diet is an appropriate image, as it feeds the brain with some of the information that doesn’t get transmitted from joints and muscles.    Sensory diets require some effort and thought, just like food diets.  Just bouncing on a therapy ball and jumping up and down probably will not do very much for any specific child.  Think of a sensory diet like a diabetic diet. It doesn’t make the pancreas start producing insulin, but it helps the system regulate blood glucose more effectively.

Managing low muscle tone for better movement, safety and function is complicated.  Step one is to understand that it is more than a child’s rounded back when sitting, or a preschooler that chews his shirtsleeve.  Step two is to make a multifocal plan to improve daily life.

For more information on life hacks for toilet training, dressing and play with children that have low muscle tone, please look in the archives section of my blog for targeted ideas! My post and are new posts that go into more details regarding life with kids that have sensory processing issues.

For personalized recommendations on equipment and methods to improve a child’s functional skills, visit my website and buy a 30-minute consult.  We can chat, do FaceTime, and you get the personal connection you need to make your decisions for your family!

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Is Low Muscle Tone A Sensory Processing Issue?

  1. kristineotr

    Great post! I read somewhere, I like how people are now referring to the process as a sensory lifestyle instead of sensory diet. Managing low muscle tone is indeed a complicated thing.

    Like

    Reply

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