Though rare, cerebral palsy can sometimes cause hypotonic symptoms, or chronic muscle weakness. Treatments such as physical therapy or surgery can help improve mobility.

Cerebral palsy is a physical and/or cognitive disability that results from brain damage at a very young age, typically during fetal development or shortly after birth.

“Cerebral” refers to the brain. “Palsy” refers to paralysis, muscle weakness, or uncontrollable body movements. It usually affects movement, coordination, and learning abilities.

There are several types of cerebral palsy. Each type is defined based on the most prevalent motor effects.

Because cerebral palsy can have a range of effects on muscle strength and tone, the condition itself can vary both in type and severity from person to person.

Sometimes the term “hypotonic cerebral palsy” is used to describe a rare type of cerebral palsy that causes hypotonia, also known as poor muscle tone or “floppy muscles.”

Below, we share what you need to know about hypotonic cerebral palsy, including causes, symptoms, treatment, and more.

Cerebral palsy can develop when the areas of the brain responsible for movement and coordination are damaged during fetal development or shortly after birth.

Brain damage to these areas can happen because of abnormal development in the womb or injury during childbirth or early life.

Hypotonic cerebral palsy is associated with damage to the cerebellum, an area of the brain involved in balance and coordination.

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing cerebral palsy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these risk factors may include:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • infertility treatments
  • twins, triplets, or other multiple births
  • maternal health conditions
  • complications during childbirth

While there are multiple risk factors for cerebral palsy, congenital cerebral palsy, or cerebral palsy that is present at birth, accounts for roughly 85–90% of all cerebral palsy cases.

In addition, there are differences in the rates of different cerebral palsy types.

For example, hypotonic cerebral palsy is rare and affects less than 5% of people with the condition. Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, affecting roughly 80% of people with cerebral palsy.

One way health experts categorize cerebral palsy is based on the effect it has on someone’s muscles.

Hypotonic cerebral palsy is characterized by hypotonia, or weak muscle tone, which is why you might sometimes see the term “floppy muscles.”

Some other symptoms of this type of cerebral palsy may include:

  • lack of head control
  • poor fine motor skills
  • slower than usual reflexes
  • excessively flexible muscles and joints
  • trouble chewing
  • difficulties swallowing
  • trouble with balance
  • wider gait than usual
  • unstable or unsteady movements
  • developmental delays
  • breathing difficulties

Symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some people experience more disability than others. People with hypotonic cerebral palsy symptoms can also have other types of cerebral palsy, known as mixed cerebral palsy, which can affect symptoms, too.

For example, hypotonic cerebral palsy often occurs alongside ataxic cerebral palsy, a type of cerebral palsy involving balance and coordination issues. Some symptoms of ataxic cerebral palsy include:

  • unsteady gate
  • slow movement speed
  • poor control over precise movements

As with other forms of cerebral palsy, there’s no current cure for hypotonic cerebral palsy. However, several treatment options can help prevent health complications and improve a person’s functioning and quality of life.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is the most important treatment for children with cerebral palsy because it helps improve muscle strength, movement, and more. A 2019 review of research suggests that physical therapy approaches like functional training and gait training are the most effective for cerebral palsy.

Other types of therapy and rehabilitation that can be helpful include:

Mobility and assistive aids

Mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and walkers, and other orthotic devices, like braces and splints, can be helpful for improving movement, balance, and posture.

Other assistive aids and technologies are also beneficial for improving overall functioning in daily life.

Medication

Doctors commonly prescribe medication for spastic cerebral palsy to help relax the muscles. However, people with hypotonic cerebral palsy who experience symptoms like abnormal movements or chronic pain may also benefit from using medication to manage symptoms.

Surgery

Some children with spastic cerebral palsy may benefit from surgery to help correct structural irregularities and address symptoms like chronic pain.

Surgery may also benefit children with hypotonic cerebral palsy with similar symptoms and complications.

Insurance coverage for hypotonic cerebral palsy

Many insurance companies offer coverage for cerebral palsy treatments. Depending on coverage, these services might include preventive services, like doctors’ visits, or treatment-based services, like physical therapy and medication.

However, even with insurance coverage, research has shown that cerebral palsy treatment often places a significant financial strain on families. Even with some services covered, out-of-pocket costs still add up, especially in cases of severe cerebral palsy that require more medical care.

Some government programs, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), can help offset some of these costs. Other state-funded programs may also help support people living with disabilities and their loved ones.

Was this helpful?

One of the biggest factors affecting life expectancy in hypotonic cerebral palsy is the severity of the condition.

According to research from 2019, children and adults with cerebral palsy who have more severe impairment often have a lower life expectancy than those with mild impairment.

However, other factors — such as access to medical care or living with other health conditions — can also affect life expectancy in people with cerebral palsy.

Calculating life expectancy is extremely individualized. If you have concerns, your primary healthcare professional will have the best information for you.

Cerebral palsy develops very early in life. It can affect your muscles, movement, coordination, and more. Hypotonic cerebral palsy is a type of cerebral palsy where brain damage causes low muscle tone as a major symptom.

While there’s no cure for hypotonic cerebral palsy symptoms, treatment options can help improve motor functioning and reduce the risk of long-term complications.