We all remember having friends or classmates who are able to do things with their joints that seem, well, unbelievable. They can bend their arms beyond the elbow, “jump rope” with their arms and push their fingers down to their wrists. Sometimes we call this being “double-jointed.” This type of extreme flexibility is known as hypermobility, named for those who have joints that move beyond the typical range of motion.
Is hypermobility normal?
Being “extra flexible” is normal especially among girls. Some estimate that as many as 40% of teenage girls and about 10% of teenage boys have joints that are hyper-flexible.
“Generally, there is no reason to be concerned that your youngster can bend their joints in abnormal ways,” says board-certified pediatric rheumatologist Dr. Ruy Carrasco.
“Most children will outgrow it as they mature into (inflexible) adults,” he explains.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues that could be difficult for kids. Each child is different and that is true for symptoms related to hypermobility.
What are some symptoms of hypermobility?
Pain or swelling in the joints or muscles especially at night is a common symptom. Sometimes the pain can be chronic (reoccurring) or acute (occurring suddenly). These varied symptoms can make it hard to diagnose (is it growing pains) or easy to misdiagnose (one of the many forms of arthritis). If your child is complaining about constant pain around their joints, talk to your pediatrician.
How can I help my child with hypermobility?
Building stronger muscles around the joints will help keep pain at bay while also protecting the joints. So encourage your child to be active!
Try also to think about “healthy” joint activities. Make sure your child isn’t overextending their legs when standing. Have them avoid doing “party tricks” showcasing their uber-flexibility. Consider finding shoes with arch support or supportive inserts to steady them on their feet.
Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can also help relieve pain.
If the pain persists or is severe, physical therapy might be recommended.
Is it serious?
In rare instances, hypermobility may be a symptom of a connective tissue disorder such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. These syndromes are genetic and require visiting a specialist for diagnosis typically via genetic testing or a biopsy.