Hot Topic of the Day-Low Tone & Core Strength
About 90% of the kids I work with in my office have challenges with low core strength, poor muscle tone, and hypermobility. Low tone, or hypotonia, can be seen in poor posture like a rounded back when sitting on the floor, poor speech, flopping arms and legs when they walk, problems with motor coordination, and poor head control, just to name a few.
What Causes Low Tone?
For the majority of children, low tone is caused by the retention of primitive and primary reflex patterns. These are the movement patterns that babies go through the first three years of life, otherwise known as the developmental milestones.
Reflexes and their Connection to Low Tone
Spinal Perez: When babies lay on their tummy and push themselves up with their forearms so they can look around, this is called Spinal Perez. This reflex helps develop tone on the front of back of the body and is instrumental in getting babies ready to crawl on their bellies (Bauer Crawling) and on all fours (STNR). Retention or poor maturation of this reflex can also result in sensitivity to touch and sound. It is also associated with poor posture when sitting and sometimes bedwetting.
Spinal Gallant: This reflex is deeply involved in the birth process, allowing the hips to move to get through the birth canal. It helps babies roll from side-to-side and to flex left and right. This helps develop core strength with the development of lateral flexion and extension. Retention of this reflex is associated with enuresis and encopresis, poor working memory, attention issues, and more.
Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex: The TLR develops in utero and also helps with the birthing position. There are two stages to the TLR and it is highly involved in the development of our proprioception and balance. It helps develop head and postural control. Children with a retained TLR may have trouble with their balance, walking up and down stairs, will have poor posture, and may seem fearful about physical activities.
There are more reflexes involved in core strength and appropriate tone, but these are the big three and I see these three active in most clients I work with.
How does Low Tone Impact Thinking and Learning?
It isn't the tone or core strength itself that is the problem. Both the poor core strength and the learning and/or attention problems are symptoms of the same underlying issue. Each of the reflex patterns connects parts of the brain and creates pathways. As part of this process, brainwave activity in different parts of the brain will be altered, allowing high brainwave activity that is necessary for attention, focus, and learning.
All three reflexes above are involved in the development of our proprioceptive and vestibular senses. Proprioception is knowing where we are in space but also is the foundation of our tactile system; understanding pressure, heat, cold, pain, muscle flexion and extension all depend on good proprioception. Interoception, understanding our internal state (tired, hungry, thirsty, sad) develops from good proprioception. Our vestibular system is our balance system. Our auditory and visual system are highly integrated with our vestibular system and for them to work efficiently, proprioception and vestibular must be fully developed.
Finally, these spinal reflexes create connections between the lower area of the brain (brainstem/cerebellum), the midbrain (amygdala, basal ganglia, thalamus, hippocampus) and the forebrain (neocortex, prefrontal cortex). Learning primarily occurs in the neocortex but requires efficient processing in the lower orders of the brain in order for that to happen.
What Can be Done about Low Tone?
Parents tell me often that they've been "working on core strength" for a long period of time. However, when I do my assessment, these three reflexes are still active. In order for core strength to develop and thus to develop good muscle tone, the reflexes must be activated and integrated first. Doing core exercises with these reflexes integrated is a little bit like doing physical therapy with a broken arm. The bone has to heal first before you do the therapy. In this case, the pathway has to be created before it can be matured through exercise.
The best course of action is to have your child's reflexes assessed and ensure they are integrated before moving forward with a core training program. You can reach out to me at BrainWorks to find out more information! firstname.lastname@example.org.