Hypertonia: What Does It Mean & Is It Curable?

Hypertonia: What Does It Mean & Is It Curable?

Hypertonia, also known as stiff muscle tone, is a condition sometimes found in both babies and adults. In this article, we explore the most common causes of Hypertonia, as well as the treatment options available.

What is Hypertonia? Hypertonia, found in both babies and adults, is also known as ‘stiff muscle tone’. Symptoms include limited range of motion, slow movements, and stiff arms & legs, to name a few. Hypertonia is the result of trauma to the central nervous system, which could be caused by Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s, stroke, or birth trauma.

Read on to find out more about the cause and symptoms of Hypertonia, and learn how the condition compares to Hypotonia.

What Does Hypertonia Mean?

Hypertonia is a condition found in both babies and adults. It essentially means there is too much muscle tone (also known as high-tone muscles) and can make it difficult to move certain parts of your body. It most commonly affects the arms and legs.

In simple terms, hypertonia is caused by a communication error in your nervous system which makes it difficult for your nerves and muscles to work as they should, causing tight and rigid muscles.

What Causes Hypertonia?

Hypertonia happens when the brain can’t properly communicate with muscles due to damage. Damage can be caused by different factors, which we’ve outlined below:

Hypertonic Cerebral Palsy is a type of Cerebral Palsy characterised by stiff and rigid muscles. If you would like to learn more about the symptoms of Cerebral Palsy, read one of our recent articles – ‘What is Cerebral Palsy (CP) in Children?

Signs & Symptoms Of Hypertonia

Hypertonia can present itself in all sorts of ways, with some signs more obvious than others. Most symptoms appear early on for babies, so it’s likely they’ll be diagnosed before two years of age. These are the most common signs of hypertonia in babies and toddlers:

  • Spasticity – a velocity dependent form of hypertonia 
  • Limited/decreased range of motion
  • Sore or tender muscles
  • Stiff arms or legs
  • Slow movements
  • Involuntary crossing of legs 
  • Fisted hand at 6 months old
  • Loss of coordination
  • Delayed motor skill development

Regardless of the cause of hypertonia,  early intervention is essential in order to try to minimise negative movement patterns. 

If your child is experiencing any of the above, feel free to contact our paediatric physiotherapy team for a free initial assessment and consultation. 

How is Hypertonia Treated?

If hypertonia is left untreated, your child’s mobility is likely to decrease over time; limiting their mobility and potentially leading to decreased levels of independence. However, Hypertonia can be treated in several ways:

Muscle Relaxant Medicine

Muscle relaxants such as Baclofen, Dantrolene, or Diazepam are effective in reducing the symptoms of Hypertonia in both children and adults. When taken, the medications help to relax the muscles, improving range of motion and reducing stiffness. 

Localised Injections

Localised injections like botulinum toxin (Botox) can help to turn off nerve signals in certain areas. It creates a temporary neuromuscular blockade which can temporarily decrease the symptoms of Hypertonia, reducing stiffness and pain. 

Surgery 

For some children, surgical intervention may be considered if their hypertonia is particularly debilitating and affecting their quality of life. There are  surgeries now available that offer different solutions. An assessment by a neurological or spasticity management medical team would be able to ascertain the one most appropriate for each child and whether surgery is a suitable option.  

Paediatric Physiotherapy

Paediatric physiotherapy, in several forms, is the most recommended treatment for hypertonia. Although hypertonia is a lifelong condition, physiotherapy is an effective long-term treatment which can help to reduce the symptoms over time. 

Physiotherapy helps treat the symptoms of hypertonia using a range of techniques, including:

  • Stretching
  • Orthotics (such as ankle foot orthotics)
  • Passive movements
  • Joint compressions
  • Weight shifting
  • Therapeutic handling  
  • Whole Body Vibration
  • Electrical Stimulation
  • Dynamic Movement Intervention (DMI) Therapy 

Paediatric Physiotherapy From Therapy Stars

If your child is presenting with symptoms or has been diagnosed with Hypertonia, get in touch for a free initial consultation and physical assessment. We’re also happy to simply offer advice and answer any questions you may have.

We’re passionate about helping children reach their full potential in a fun and engaging way. Our children’s physiotherapy service is available from birth up to the age of 18 and beyond into adulthood. 

Hypertonia FAQs

What is Hypotonia and How Does it Differ From Hypertonia?

Hypertonia means too much muscle tone, and Hypotonia means the complete opposite. Hypotonia is sometimes called ‘floppy baby syndrome’, and presents with symptoms like difficulty maintaining a good posture, poor head control, or delayed reflexes. It can be caused by:

  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth
  • Spinal Muscular Atrophy
  • Downs Syndrome

If you would like to find out more about Muscular Dystrophy and the effects it can have on a child or young person, read one of our recent articles – ‘What Is Muscular Dystrophy (MD) in Children?

Is Hypertonia Always Cerebral Palsy?

No, not always. Hypertonia is common in those with Cerebral Palsy, however, Hypertonia is also linked with several other conditions, which we’ve listed below:

  • Prader-Willi Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Muscular Dystrophy 
  • Downs Syndrome
  • Brain Bleeds
  • In-Utero Strokes
  • Traumatic Birth Injuries

Is Hypertonia a Genetic Disorder?

Some causes of Hypertonia (such as Cerebral Palsy, or Parkinson’s) can be caused by genetics. However, this isn’t always the case. As we’ve mentioned above, Hypertonia, or stiff muscles can be caused by trauma. This could be due to  a stroke, reduced oxygen during birth, or other injuries.