Hypertonia in Babies

June 23, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Seeing your baby encounter the stiffness, spasms, and pain that can come with a condition like hypertonia can be heart-wrenching. On top of this, it can often be difficult or challenging to pinpoint the underlying cause of these symptoms. This leads to more questions and anxiety as you work to understand and treat this disorder in your little one.

It’s understandable to feel this way, and the best first step for any treatment journey is usually knowledge and education.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments for the symptoms of hypertonia and ways to care for your baby to manage this condition. Informing yourself about this condition, including the causes, symptoms, potential complications, and treatment options will empower you to be as engaged as possible as a parent and a caregiver. The following guide can help you learn about this difficult condition and how to achieve the best possible treatment plan for your baby.

What is hypertonia?

Hypertonia is a medical term for too much muscle tone. Babies diagnosed with this condition can appear stiff and have difficulty moving. This condition is relatively rare compared to hypotonia, or weak muscle tone. Because it is often a symptom of another condition, researchers do not know how frequently it occurs.

Muscle tone is what allows our bodies to stand up straight and support ourselves while performing any physical activity. Too much of it can result in stiffness and lack of flexibility. There can be a range of causes for hypertonia when it develops in infants and very young children, with a neurological disorder very often being the main contributor.

Doctors have classified two main types of hypertonia, spastic and dystonic. Spastic hypertonia is marked by spastic reflexes and movements. Dystonic hypertonia describes excessive rigidity and lack of movement.

Hypertonia Causes

Often, a problem with communication in the nervous system between the brain and muscles is the main underlying cause of hypertonia in babies. Essentially, a disruption in the brain or nerve pathways causes the brain to be unable to send a signal that tells the muscles to relax. Major causes for this can include:

  • A brain tumor
  • Lack of oxygen during birth
  • Neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis
  • Developmental problems with the brain or nervous system
  • Injuries, especially trauma to the head

Hypertonia Risk Factors

Since hypertonia is often the result or symptom of another condition or an injury, it is difficult to pinpoint the risk factors. Premature birth, injuries, and babies with a family history of a condition or illness that causes hypertonia can be at the highest risk for developing this condition.

Hypertonia Symptoms

In many cases, babies displaying symptoms of hypertonia will then receive a diagnosis for an underlying condition or injury. Symptoms of hypertonia in babies include:

  • Involuntary muscle twitching or jerking
  • Poor balance and frequent falling
  • Stiffness and inability to relax
  • Lack of range of motion
  • Muscle soreness and pain

Hypertonia Complications

Hypertonia in babies is treatable, but it is a lifelong condition with long-term complications that can include permanent contracture, developmental delays, and risk of infection. Taking a proactive approach to treatment and care can give your child the best chance of a positive outcome.

Diagnosing Hypertonia in Babies

Doctors will typically diagnose hypertonia with an observation of symptoms, a review of medical history, and a physical examination. Additional testing, including imaging tests and electromyography, can confirm the underlying cause of hypertonia. If an undiagnosed disorder, such as cerebral palsy, is believed to be the cause, referral to a specialist may also be recommended.

Hypertonia Treatment

There is currently no cure for hypertonia in babies, and treatment is typically focused on managing symptoms. Common therapeutic steps can include:

  • Muscle relaxant medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational and speech therapy
  • Receiving localized injections
  • Therapeutic massage

In some cases, treating the underlying condition can also relieve symptoms. As the child grows up, additional treatment and mobility aids can help with development.

Caring for a Baby with Hypertonia

Babies with hypertonia and related conditions often have extensive care needs. Families encountering this condition, particularly with limited time and family members, often require and benefit from the help of pediatric home health services. Services can include supervision, help with nutrition and administering medication, and accompaniment to regular appointments.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.