Joint conditions: Hypermobility syndrome

Hypermobility syndrome is a joint condition that allows movement beyond the normal function of the joint. The connections between bones are usually contained within a network of ligaments and connective tissue that support and control the movement of the bones. An good illustration of the normal joint is available at the Cleveland Clinic’s website. When these supporting tissues are “loose”, they allow abnormal movements. This stress can cause pain, irritation and discomfort.

Symptoms of hypermobility

Signs of hypermobility syndrome include:

  • the ability to place your palms on the floor with your knees fully extended
  • hyperextension of the knee or elbow, beyond 10 degrees
  • the ability to touch the thumb to the forearm

Benign hypermobility syndrome often manifests early in life as what is referred to as “growing pains”, but it is not the same condition and the pain continues into adulthood. The joints may swell when used, such as late afternoon, at night and after exercise, with resolution in a few hours. The swelling is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the joint capsule due to irritation from the loose connective tissues. Pain is more common in the larger joints and lower extremities. Signs of inflammation, such as redness and heat, are not common. Partial dislocation may occur as well, with visible movement of the joints.

Who is at risk for hypermobility

Ten to 15 percent of normal children have hypermobile joints according to MedicineNet. The condition can run in families when it is caused by a defect in collagen genes. Children are naturally more flexible than adults because their skeletons are still growing. Hypermobility often causes little discomfort until adulthood.

Complications of hypermobile joints

Hypermobility syndrome can also be a feature of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. This generalized syndrome causes weakness of the connective tissue. It is an inherited defect that also causes elastic skin, easy bruising and damage to blood vessels. Other chronic medical conditions that can cause hypermobility are Marfan syndrome, Marquio syndrome and Cleidocranial dysostosis.

Hypermobility can lead to arthritis and an increased risk of sprains and strains. Scoliosis is more common in those with this particular joint condition.

Treatment of hypermobility

There is generally no treatment for hypermobile joints. Physical fitness is recommended to strengthen muscles and stabilize the skeleton. However, exercises should be chosen that prevent stress on the joints, especially any that are particularly affected by the syndrome. Joint pain can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers and arthritis drugs as directed by a doctor. Rheumatologists are often consulted when the syndrome causes other health issues with the joints.

Though hypermobility syndrome is an uncomfortable lifelong condition, there are treatments available to ease the pain caused by overextending the joints and limit potential complications. If the joint condition is caused by a genetic disorder, only a genetic counselor or other similarly trained medical professional can determine the exact condition, which will determine the approach your doctor takes to treatment. Be sure to address any joint pain or issues with your doctor or pediatrician.