The term “tone” is widely used and commonly thrown around in the world of PT. Parents are often told things about their child’s “tone” and this is therefore often a common topic that pediatric PT’s get asked about! Here is a general break down of tone, and the impact differences in tone can have on motor movement.
Muscle tone is the amount of resistance to movement that all muscles of the body have. Simply put, it’s how much “tension” is on a muscle while it is resting/not being asked to move the body. There are 3 different ways in while tone is described:
Normal/neutral tone: This amount of muscle tone is enough to resist natural gravitational forces and pull, but also relaxed enough to allow for ease of movement throughout all planes of motion. A child will need to generate an average amount of force to move their bodies and to build strength and gain motor skills.
Increased tone: When the general tone of a muscle is increased, passive movement is going to be more difficult. There is more tension than expected in a given muscle group, and there will therefore need to be more force to overcome this tension and move the body. With passive movement difficulties active movement difficulties will often also result. Ensuring maintenance of available motion is important for children who have areas of increased muscle tone. Check out our post on high muscle tone.
Decreased tone: When the general tone of a muscle is decreased, passive movement comes much more easily. Often, little to no resistance to the movement is felt. A child with lower muscle tone will therefore need to work harder in order to activate and use their muscles. Due to having to work harder, fatigue will often onset sooner. Kids being the smart, amenable, beings they are will often find ways around having to work as hard to complete movements and explore their surroundings. Encouraging appropriate functional movement patterns will help these kiddos to build strength in an optimal way! Check out our post on low muscle tone. And our post on low tone and growth spurts.