Clinical Tip: 'Spaghetti arms'-a relaxing concept

March 1, 2007

It is often difficult to get a child to relax enough so that you can test for reflexes or muscle tone. Young children do not seem to know what to do when asked directly to relax. I have found that asking the child to "make your arms and legs like spaghetti" works very well. Not only does the request sound funny-often eliciting a smile or laugh from an otherwise reserved child-but, for some reason, it seems to communicate clearly to children that you want their limbs to be loose and floppy.

It is often difficult to get a child to relax enough so that you can test for reflexes or muscle tone. Young children do not seem to know what to do when asked directly to relax. I have found that asking the child to "make your arms and legs like spaghetti" works very well. Not only does the request sound funny-often eliciting a smile or laugh from an otherwise reserved child-but, for some reason, it seems to communicate clearly to children that you want their limbs to be loose and floppy.

Jennifer Madan, MDBronx, N.Y.