What is Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2019
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Cerebral palsy is a general term for many different nervous system deformities and disorders that are usually present at birth. Hypotonic cerebral palsy is one of the least common forms of the condition, but it is often one of the most debilitating. Babies who are born with hypotonic cerebral palsy have very little muscle tone and they are unable to control the movement of their heads, arms, or legs. Ongoing physical therapy and medical care can help to manage some symptoms, but most individuals living with the disorder need a great deal of assistance to accomplish daily tasks.

Most cases of hypotonic cerebral palsy are the result of brain injuries or infections acquired during prenatal development. A mother who has a serious infection, such as rubella or German measles, may transfer it to her fetus. Congenital spinal cord defects, premature birth, or oxygen deprivation during labor can also affect the brain's ability to regulate muscle development and movement. Rarely, a serious brain injury acquired in the first year of life can cause hypotonic symptoms.


When an infant is born with severe hypotonic cerebral palsy, the signs are usually obvious right away. Most newborns have some difficulty moving their head, but infants with hypotonic conditions have entirely limp necks. Doctors often use the term rag doll to describe critically hypotonic babies who show no control over their necks, legs, or arms. If the symptoms are not as severe, the condition may be diagnosed after a series of reflex, breathing, and swallowing tests.

Depending on the degree of muscle involvement, an infant may need to stay in a critical care unit for several weeks or months. Babies who are able to breathe and swallow with minimal assistance may be allowed to go home. As infants continue to develop, muscle tone issues become more prevalent. They are typically small and frail, and have significant difficulties learning to speak and swallow solid food. Intelligence is usually not affected by hypotonic cerebral palsy, but communication issues can impair a child's ability to learn.

Older children, adolescents, and adults living with hypotonic cerebral palsy can benefit from regular physical therapy. Trained therapists help patients learn how to use arm braces, motorized wheelchairs to maintain some degree of independence. Specialized exercise programs are designed to strengthen existing muscles as much as possible. Many patients are able to control their arms well enough to dress themselves, but they often still need assistance eating meals.


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Post 6

My son is two years old and has hypotnic cerebral palsy. Any questions, just ask. I can answer loads of things you may be thinking.

Post 5

@aLFredo, post no. 3: One can remember "hyper" being increased muscle tone by remembering that anyone who is hyper has increased energy. It's the same as supine. I remember supine as supping, a local mancunian word for drinking.

Post 4

@alfredo - I have always used this to remember hyper versus hypo. I immediately pictured hyper as a hyper kid and a hyper kid is always moving around so therefore they have a strong muscle tone so I always remember hypertonic as being tense or high tone and therefore by being the opposite of hyper, hypotonic had to mean low tone.

Hope that helps!

Post 3

When I was in school I had difficulty remembering what hypotonic versus hypertonic meant. I could remember it had to do with muscle tone because of the 'tonic' part of the word but I could never remember if hypo meant low or hyper meant tense.

Now that I work for a school that has a wonderful infant toddler program for children with cerebral palsy, I would really like to find a way to remember which means; does anyone have any suggestions?

Post 2

My two-year-old nephew developed bacterial meningitis. It affected his brain and caused him to get hypotonic cerebral palsy. His mother was devastated that her baby boy, who was born healthy, would now be impaired for the rest of his life.

Today, he is fifteen. He has trouble sitting up straight, and sometimes his arms and legs jerk around involuntarily. He goes to a physical therapist once a week, and his condition has improved a lot since his early childhood because of it. However, there is no cure, so he will always have to live with muscle weakness and poor coordination.

Post 1

My cousin’s baby was born with hypotonic cerebral palsy, and the doctor didn’t think she would live very long. She was totally limp, and she didn’t even cry when she came out into the world.

She had to stay in the hospital for two months. As her lungs and muscles developed, she became able to breathe and swallow on her own, and they let her go home.

She is twenty years old now, and she can do simple tasks, but her arms and legs are weaker than those of the average person. She has poor coordination, and she can’t lift anything over ten pounds.

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