Does High Muscle Tone Always Mean Cerebral Palsy?

3 min read

Mother playing with baby

High muscle tone, or hypertonia, is a condition that causes tight muscles and stiff or rigid movements. This can make it difficult to sit, stand, or perform simple day-to-day movements.

Hypertonia is common in those affected by cerebral palsy (CP). However, cerebral palsy is not the only cause of hypertonia. Read more to learn about what to do if you think your child has hypertonia, possibly caused by cerebral palsy.

Does your child have hypertonia after developing cerebral palsy from a birth injury? Our labor and delivery nurses can help. Contact a nurse now to discuss options for treatment and financial assistance.

Cerebral Palsy and High Muscle Tone

Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control motor functions, such as muscle tone. This is especially true in the most common form of CP — spastic cerebral palsy — which accounts for 70% of all cases.

For cerebral palsy patients, muscle tone can be low, high, or a combination of both. The type of muscle tone abnormality experienced is based on the severity and location of damage to the brain.

Hypertonia causes too much muscle tone, which makes arms or legs stiff and difficult to move. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the muscles, but rather that the brain cannot voluntarily control them, causing the muscles to over-develop and constantly contract.

Cerebral palsy patients with hypertonia tend to have difficulty moving, very little flexibility, and involuntary movements.

What Causes High Muscle Tone?

Although hypertonia in cerebral palsy patients is common, high muscle tone does not always mean your child has developed cerebral palsy.

Other conditions that are linked with high muscle tone are:

  • Brain bleeds
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Toxins in the brain
  • Strokes

Each of these conditions can cause damage to the brain or nervous system, resulting in hypertonia. Traumatic birth injuries or injury to the spinal cord can also cause hypertonia to occur. Many birth traumas could have been prevented with proper care during childbirth.

Diagnosing Your Child’s Hypertonia

Hypertonia is usually noticeable within the child’s first 18 months of life as their bodies start to develop. One of the tell-tale signs of high muscle tone is delays in motor skills development.

Hypertonia signs and symptoms may include:

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Moving slowly and rigidly
  • Musculoskeletal deformities
  • Spasms/involuntary movements

Since the symptoms of hypertonia are different for each patient, it is essential to talk with your child’s doctor so they can begin diagnostic testing.

Doctors will first confirm symptoms during an examination before performing imaging tests like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans. Other tests may include an electromyogram, which will measure muscle function.

If your child suffered a birth injury and later developed cerebral palsy and hypertonia, our registered nurses can help. Contact us at (855) 220-1101 now.

Treatment for High Muscle Tone

Once hypertonia is diagnosed, doctors will recommend treatment options. Many hypertonia treatment options, like physical therapy, are standard forms of cerebral palsy treatment as well.

Physical therapy for high muscle tone includes:

  • Balance training
  • Exercises to relax tight muscles
  • Movement and walking practice
  • Posture correction practice
  • Special stretches for pain and tightness
  • Strength training

Other treatment options may include muscle-relaxing medications such as baclofen, diazepam, and dantrolene and assistive devices like orthotics that keep limbs in proper positions to prevent muscles from over-constricting.

Interested in learning about more treatment options for cerebral palsy-related hypertonia? Download your free Cerebral Palsy Guide today.

Free Cerebral Palsy Guide

  • Diagnosis and prognosis
  • Treatments and therapies
  • Financial support options
Get your free guide

Get Help With Cerebral Palsy and Hypertonia

Each year, around 30,000 babies experience injury at birth that could result in debilitating conditions like cerebral palsy and hypertonia. Many of these injuries could have been avoided if the medical team was not negligent.

Parents of children with cerebral palsy are often left overwhelmed by treatment information and financial stress from medical costs. Cerebral Palsy Guide is dedicated to helping families get the resources they need for their children.

Contact us today to see how we can help.

Cerebral Palsy Guide was founded upon the goal of educating families about cerebral palsy, raising awareness, and providing support for children, parents, and caregivers affected by the condition. Our easy-to-use website offers simple, straightforward information that provides families with medical and legal solutions. We are devoted to helping parents and children access the tools they need to live a life full of happiness

  1. FlintRehab. (2021). “Cerebral palsy muscle tone: The risk of high tone vs low tone.” Retrieved September 12, 2023, from
  2. National Institutes for Health. (n.d.). “Hypertonia Information Page.” Retrieved September 19, 2023, from
  3. North Shore Pediatric Therapy. (2019). Muscle tone. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from
  4. (n.d.). High & low tone. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from
  5. (n.d.). Hypertonia. Retrieved September 19, 2023, from