The affected person may have poor balance and may appear to move awkwardly, and they may experience random muscle contractions which will of course be very unsettling.
Hypertonia is caused by damage to the brain which interrupts the signals that travel from the brain to the nerves telling them to contract. In the case of cerebral palsy this is often caused by damage to the brain before, during or shorty after birth.
Treatment for hypertonia includes the prescription of muscle relaxants, exercise and physiotherapy. Physiotherapy aims to maintain and increase range of movement, and also aims to avoid contracture. The success of treatment will depend on the severity of the hypertonia, and the level of pain experienced by the sufferer. There are also surgical interventions available to restore movement to limbs by relieving tight muscles and tissues. A relatively new surgical option is SDR (selective dorsal rhizotomy) which aims to reduce stiffness in the legs.
Hypotonia symptoms are the opposite of those seen in hypertonia, and muscles will appear to be loose and floppy. Those with hypotonia may have difficulty in maintaining a good posture, may struggle to walk or stand unaided and may also have respiratory problems. Hypotonia is usually caused by damage to the brain suffered within the womb, as well as problematic deliveries.
Treatment for hypotonia includes physiotherapy which should be started as soon a possible following diagnosis. A full evaluation of abilities should be conducted to be sure that the most appropriate activities and therapy is provided.
The prognosis for those with hypotonia depends on the severity of the hypotonia, and in a cerebral palsy patient there may not be any improvement in mobility, and unfortunately mobility may become worse with age. However, each case will be different and will depend on the severity of the cerebral palsy. Some will find that their mobility can improve with the correct physiotherapy.
For both hypotonia and hypertonia there are a range of aids available to assist with mobility, such as leg and arm braces which aim to support the limbs.
Occupational therapy aims to identify problems which the sufferer is experiencing with everyday tasks and can advise the best way to carry out complex activities such as getting dressed. This can be invaluable for boosting self-esteem and independence. Occupational therapists can also advise adults with cerebral palsy on independent living.