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Glossary Term


Tone refers to the resistance to stretch in resting muscle and the readiness with which the nervous system activates muscle in response to stimuli. This inherent quality of muscle can be felt as tissue resistance during manual techniques. Understanding and measuring muscle tone is important in the diagnosis and treatment of clinical muscle pain. Synonyms for tone include tonicity, muscle tone, muscular tone, and muscle tension. Related glossary terms include hypertonicity, hypotonicity, and muscle spasm.

Tone is generally thought of as having two components:

  • Intrinsic - resistance to stretch in resting muscle.
  • Neuromotor - the readiness with which the nervous system activates muscles in response to stimuli.

Tone is an inherent quality of muscle that may be felt as "tissue resistance" during a variety of manual techniques. In a person with cervical dystonia, the sustained muscle contraction of the sternocleidomastoid is an example of "excessive" or "increased" tone.

Note, looking "toned" or "toning up" is actually a change in physical appearance (increase in muscle definition) resulting from a decrease in body fat and/or an increase in muscle mass, and has nothing to do with the technical definition of tone. You cannot do "higher reps and lower weight" to look more "toned", but you can consume fewer calories and/or increase muscle mass to look more "defined".

  1. Ng, J. K. F., Richardson, C. A., Kippers, V., & Parnianpour, M. (1998). Relationship between muscle fiber composition and functional capacity of back muscles in healthy subjects and patients with back pain. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 27(6), 389-402.
  2. Simons, D. G., & Mense, S. (1998). Understanding and measurement of muscle tone as related to clinical muscle pain. Pain, 75(1), 1-17.




  1. Activity
  2. Muscle-activity
  3. Under-activity
  4. Over-activity