6 Tips to Follow If Your Baby’s Arms and Legs Feel Stiff
6 mins read
Physical development for New Born
Babies, much like us, tend to stretch their arms and legs when they wake up or when they need to relax. It is such a cute sight to see them stretching, along with yawning or making funny sounds. However, at times, you may notice that there seems to be a problem with this stretching. When your baby stretches or when you try to lift him up, there is a stiffness or rigidity in your baby’s arms and legs. This is a common problem in babies and happens because their muscular development is still in the early stages. But is there a way you can ease the stiffness and free your baby of pain and discomfort?
The following signs can be indicators of stiffness in your baby’s limbs:
He is unable to relax certain muscles
He feels pain and cries out while stretching
He has trouble letting go of a particular object such as a toy and feels pain if you try to tug
There seems to be stiffness in the legs when you pick your baby up from bed
His arms or legs feel cramped
How to Soothe Stiffness in Your Baby's Limbs
The following are the different methods you can try to soothe your baby’s stiffness in his arms and legs.
Massage Your Baby
This is one age-old advice that is still very relevant today! If you feel your baby has some stiffness in his limbs and experiences difficulty in moving them, just massage your baby on a regular basis using a light oil. This soothes the stiff muscles and allows free movement of hands and legs.
Change Holding Position
Sometimes - and we often don't realize this - it could be the way the baby is being held or carried that leads to the stiffness in his limbs. Check the way your baby is being carried by family members, friends or the babysitter/nanny. One important rule to remember is that all jerky movement must be avoided while handling your baby. Always prefer to gently but firmly hold the baby. During the massage, hold a lying baby and move him into a sitting position for support and ease of movement.
Rolling is an effective way to overcome stiffness in the limbs. It is also something your baby can do by himself just with a little guidance from you! Assist your baby in rolling front to back and back to front while he/she is lying on their back or tummy. You can also roll the baby’s body back and forth - very gently. When done a few times during the day, this will help in removing stiffness which comes from lying in one position for too long.
Hold the Baby in a Standing Position
Another good idea to overcome stiffness and ease the movement of your baby's limbs is to help them be in a standing position. Now, don't worry that your child is too young to do this. All you have to do is simply help your baby to a standing position by holding his waist or grasping his hands, before allowing his feet to touch the ground. Do this a few times during the day to eventually ease out the stiffness. If your baby is close to the one-year milestone, he has probably already started trying to stand up by himself. Many babies, just before reaching the one-year mark, try to bend their knees while also slowly learning to sit and stand. Just encourage him without being forceful - this exercise will keep him active and also remove any stiffness in the limbs.
Try the Bicycle Movement
The one golden trick suggested by almost all paediatricians for limb stiffness is this - the bicycle movement! Here is how to do this: move your baby’s leg in a bicycle movement while he is lying on the back. Show him to pedal his feet in the air (you will have to do it for him if your baby is too young), like he is riding a bicycle. This will help remove stiffness from the baby’s legs and also keep him active. After all, along with healthy food, exercise is equally important for an infant!
Watch: Baby Playtime Exercises - Bicycle Movement
This exercise helps stimulate your baby’s sensory and motor skills, while also helping him relax.
Place the baby on his back, hold him by the knees and ensure that his legs are slightly bent.
Remember to not use force, and to keep the environment relaxed. Provide words and sounds of encouragement for your baby.
Wave Your Baby's Arms
If the stiffness is more pronounced in your baby's arms, this little trick will surely help you. Just wave your baby’s arms from side to side and up to down. This will not only remove stiffness from your baby’s arms but also set a precedent to teaching him to wave goodbye! You can also indulge in the waving practice while dancing to music or singing songs to your baby.
Why Do Your Baby’s Arms and Legs Stiffen?
Babies rarely require any sort of formal exercises or stretching. But if it does seem like your baby is exhibiting the signs of stiffness in his limbs, he may have what is described as hypertonia or high muscle tone. Hypertonicity is characterized by rigidity in muscles, tension in the muscles while resting, and any difficulty in mobility and flexing. If your baby seems to be clenching his hands and feet continuously, cross their legs in a scissor-like fashion while being picked up, curl their toes and so on, they could be showing signs of hypertonicity. Babies born prematurely or through any abnormal/risky delivery are at risk of being hypertonic. Hypertonia can also sometimes be a symptom of cerebral palsy, although this may not always be the case. It can be caused in infants due to the following:
An injury to the head
An infection in the central nervous system
A lack of oxygen
When You Should Seek Help
If you feel like there is stiffness in the legs and arms of the baby even after trying all the above, it is time to visit a paediatrician. This is especially critical if your baby’s limbs are so stiff that he is showing discomfort when you try to stretch the limbs or massage him. Hypertonia can affect babies born through abnormal or difficult deliveries. It can also affect those born through premature deliveries, although in such a case, hypertonia may be a sign of cerebral palsy as well. Therefore, parents who believe that their baby might have been injured during or shortly after childbirth should seek support as soon as possible from specialists in birth injuries. In most cases, the stiffness in the baby’s limbs reduces as he grows up. However, stiff arms and legs for a prolonged period of time could indicate abnormal muscle tone and need to be evaluated to check for further complications.