Babies are physiologically born with hypertonia in the upper and lower limbs. Their arms and legs are bent, it is difficult for us to stretch them and they keep their fists closed. With the passage of time, this hypertonia in babies it is disappearing, but what happens if it doesn't?
Hypertonia is an abnormal increase in muscle tone and, muscle tone, is the resistance that an examiner notices when passively mobilizing a joint. If we encounter excessive resistance to mobilization, we will speak of hypertonia.
In general, all babies have some hypertonia, but it is temporary. In the case of premature babies, they are usually more prone to hypertonia, since they lacked development in the womb. On the other hand, adults maintain isolated hypertonia during sleep, or if we suffer a coma.
There are different degrees of hypertonia: from rigidity, which would be the mildest condition, to spasticity, which is a higher degree. If it is severe, it could cause muscle retractions and deformities, causing functional limitation and even affecting activities of daily living and quality of life.
Hypertonic children tend to be 'more advanced'. They tend to be restless and some are in constant tension, they are fast, agile ...
In spasticity, resistance to passive mobilization increases with the speed of movement of the limb and the increase in muscle tone is exaggerated and permanent even at muscle rest. In stiffness, hypertonia does not increase with speed.
Spasticity can occur after a major head injury, or after a brain injury where there is a lack of oxygen, in spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, it can be secondary to neurological diseases, infantile cerebral palsy, etc.
When we try to extend the elbow of a person with spasticity, we encounter increasing resistance, and if we give in the movement, their elbow will quickly flex again until it remains as it was at the beginning.
Transient hypertonia is quite common. It is usually diagnosed around three months and disappears around 18 months. The increase in tone in this case goes from the head to the feet. They are children who hold their head very early, go more upright, stay upside down earlier, etc. Other symptoms of hypertonia in newborns are:
- Persistence of closed fists.
- Clubfoot (down) and flexed toes.
- Legs in triple flexion (ankle, knee and hip bent) or in full extension.
- Muscle contractions. Flexor muscles of the arms (biceps) very hard as well as the hamstrings in the legs.
- Muscle shortening. They have trouble stretching their arms or legs.
- In strong hypertonia, movements are slow or scant, and there is difficulty in starting or finishing the movement.
- Exaggerated movements before loud or unexpected sounds.
- Sometimes visual problems are associated.
- Handling, coordination and balance problems.
- Difficulties in swallowing.
It is important to detect it promptly to avoid the loss of muscular elasticity that can produce the acquisition of bad motor patterns.
There are different medications that can help relax the muscles. When it is very spastic, the doctor can inject Botox, and even surgery can be used to perform tendon lengthening or to perform tendon transfers to strengthen weak muscles.
The work of physiotherapists consists, through different techniques, in helping to relax the muscles in tension and in strengthening the muscles that are weak. Facilitate the acquisition of normal movement patterns, better psychomotor development, and a posture that is as optimal as possible, avoiding retractions that can produce frequent deformities such as clubfoot with claw toes, knee flexion, scoliosis, etc.
For this they will use massage therapy, stretching, electrotherapy, splints or orthoses, methods such as Bobath, Voita, kabat, Le Metayer, Perfetti, Rood ...
When suspecting an alteration in the tone of a baby or a child, the most important thing is to go to professionals such as the pediatrician and the physiotherapist who is an expert in pediatrics, so that they can make an early diagnosis, and be able to start treatment as soon as possible.
- Perform relaxing massages of the muscles involved.
- Learn and practice the stretches that your physiotherapist tells you.
- Mobilize legs, arms and fingers.
- Bathing with warm water, and if possible in the pool, will help to relax the muscles and promote joint mobility by reducing the weight of the limbs.
- Sensory stimulation of the baby. Offer you objects of different textures, sizes ...
You can read more articles similar to Hypertonia in babies. Recognize this alteration in muscle tone, in the category of on-site infant stimulation.