Joint Hypermobility means your joints are more flexible than other people’s and move beyond their normal range (you may think of yourself as being double jointed). It can be present in a limited number of joints or maybe widespread. In many people, hypermobility does not cause any problems, and can be seen as advantageous such as in athletes, gymnastics and dancers due to their extra range of movement. However when this excessive movement in the joints causes pain, ligament injuries and other symptoms such as fatigue, it might be joint hypermobility syndrome. On rare occasions, people can develop Heritable Disorders of Connective Tissue, which are associated with complex and multi-systemic problems. This rarer type of disease is passed down through generations.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The main symptoms include pain in the joints that are affected (typically knees, feet and ankles) and fatigue, which can vary greatly from day to day. These symptoms can interfere with daily activities of living, schooling or work. The associated pain can become widespread and persistent and might initially be diagnosed as, or confused with, another condition called fibromyalgia.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
Joint hypermobility usually affects children and young people, and often gets better as you get older. It is also more common in females. It affects 7 – 10% of school age children in the UK and frequently runs in families.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Joint hypermobility is often hereditary (runs in families). One of the main causes is thought to be genetically determined changes to a type of protein called collagen. Collagen is found throughout the body – for example, in skin and ligaments (the tough bands of connective tissue that link two bones together at a joint). If collagen is weaker than it should be, tissues in the body will be fragile, which can make ligaments and joints loose and stretchy. As a result, the joints can extend further than usual.
HAVE I GOT JOINT HYPERMOBILITY?
The following can be symptoms of joint hypermobility syndrome:
- often get pain or stiffness in your joints, especially in the evening or at night
- keep getting sprains and strains
- keep dislocating your joints (joints “pop out”)
- have poor balance or co-ordination
- have thin, stretchy skin
- have digestive problems like diarrhoea or constipation
If you have concerns that you or a child in your care has joint hypermobility, please discuss these with your GP.
HOW IS JOINT HYPERMOBILITY TREATED?
There’s no cure for joint hypermobility syndrome. The main treatment is improving muscle strength and fitness so your joints are protected. Ask a GP to refer you to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for specialist advice. You can also book them privately – for more information see the “Physiotherapy” & “Occupational Therapy” pages. They can help you:
- reduce pain and the risk of dislocations
- improve muscle strength and fitness
- improve posture and balance
Treating joint pain
Paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers (like ibuprofen, which can come in tablets, gels and sprays) may help ease any pain. Speak to a pharmacist about the best treatment for you. A GP may be able to prescribe stronger painkillers. To find out more see “Pain relief” and Managing pain. If you’re in severe pain, ask a GP to refer you to a pain clinic to help you learn how to cope better with pain.
To help ease joint pain and stiffness, you can:
- have warm baths
- use hot water bottles
- use heat-rub cream
- gentle low-impact exercise like swimming or cycling (not doing any exercise can make your symptoms worse), see “Keep Moving“
- maintain a healthy weight, see “Eating for health“
- buy good, firm shoes
- if you have flat feet, use special insoles (support arches) in shoes
- do high-impact exercise
- grip things too tightly
- overextend your joints just because you can