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.