What Is Hypermobility Syndrome?

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kid's knee being tested for Hypermobility syndrome

Acrobats and gymnasts are often considered to be hypermobile due to their flexibility. This is when several joints in the body are more flexible than usual. Some children who have particularly flexible joints can sometimes experience pain if they have hypermobility syndrome.

The Beighton’s score is a test for measuring the mobility of joints. A high score means you are hypermobile. Children who are hypermobile can:

  • Hyperextend their knee or elbow joints
  • Touch their wrists with their thumbs
  • Place the palm of their hands flat on the ground with the knees fully extended

In some cases, being hypermobile can be good. “This flexibility can be a huge advantage for musicians playing string or keyboard instruments,” says Professor Rodney Grahame, a consultant rheumatologist at University College London Hospitals. In other cases, hypermobility can lead to injuries and complications.

Symptoms

Hypermobility can sometimes have painful results and cause joint and muscle pain. Most specifically in the knees, elbows, calf and thigh. It can also lead to more dislocations, sprains and injuries. In these cases, it is known as hypermobility syndrome. The condition is believed to be hereditary, caused by genetic changes in the structure of collagen. Collagen is a protein found in ligaments that hold and support the joints. The ligaments are stretchy, giving the joints greater flexibility.

People who suffer from hypermobility syndrome, usually experience pain in the latter part of the day, which often gets worse with movement. A child suffering from this pain might refuse to walk or take part in physical activities and is often misunderstood to be lazy or fussy. These symptoms are often confused with growing pains.

Children suffering from hypermobility syndrome tend to have flat feet and are likely to be accident-prone. Professor Grahame says, “their co-ordination is very poor and they appear gangly. This is because they don’t have enough control over their limbs and often fall as a result.”

An Invisible Illness

The condition often escapes diagnosis, and is described by some as an “invisible illness”. “Over 56% of people take longer than 10 years for a diagnosis,” says Donna Wicks, senior medical liaison officer at the Hypermobility Syndrome Association, UK.

Isobel Knight, who suffers with hypermobility syndrome, agrees that the condition often goes undiagnosed. “It is a cruelly deceptive illness,” she explains. “When doctors examine you and ask you to do stretches, hypermobility means you appear quite flexible. As a result, patients are often dismissed. In the beginning, friends don’t understand. Even your family struggles to work out why you are in pain all the time.”

Managing The Condition

The condition can be managed with pain medication, physiotherapy and low impact exercises. These exercises help build muscle strength and avoid over-extending the joints. Inactivity and weight gain worsen the problem, so physical activity and a healthy diet are a must.

Children suffering from hypermobility syndrome need a lot of support, as they tend to feel isolated. Being trapped in a body racked with pain is debilitating and also disheartening when no one understands why. More awareness about the condition is key for a timely diagnosis.

For more information visit the Hypermobility Syndromes Association HMSA

This article appeared in Playtimes April Issue 2015 and was updated January 2021.

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