You might have heard those incredibly flexible people like gymnasts and dancers describe themselves as double-jointed. While a person's flexibility peaks in childhood and can vary from joint to joint, there are some people who encounter flexibility in multiple joints along with pain. This is known as hypermobility syndrome.
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Marcus Chia said that approximately five per cent of the population is affected by hypermobility, with children and females being more affected than men.
"Most people with hypermobility live a normal life but some have more frequent musculoskeletal complaints such as ankle sprains, anterior cruciate ligament injury and shoulder instability," said Dr Chia.
"Patients with generalised joint hypermobility are 2.5 times more likely to suffer a shoulder dislocation than those without hypermobility," he said.
Other conditions associated with joint hypermobility include musculoskeletal conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoporosis, chronic regional pain syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Inherited conditions such as Marfan and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are characterised by joint hypermobility caused by a defect in the body's connective tissue.
"Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterised by widespread pain, sleep disturbance and fatigue. Joint hypermobility is linked to widespread musculoskeletal pain in some individuals but there is debate whether there is an association with fibromyalgia," said Dr Chia.
"It is feasible that joint hypermobility could mimic and be misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia."
While people with joint hypermobility can experience injury ranging from strains to dislocations, pain tends to emerge with age or repetitive use.
Commonly children can find they encounter pain when they spend long periods of time doing handwriting, however general aches and pains can also be attributed to joint hypermobility syndrome including fatigue, headaches and gastrointestinal symptoms.
A GP will be able to refer children with such symptoms to a paediatrician for further investigation.
In particular, those who participate in sport and other physical activities in their daily lives need to be taught how to maintain strong muscles to support their weak joints.
"The relationship between joint hypermobility and injury suggests that it may be prudent to assess athletes for hypermobility so that injury prevention programs can be developed," said Dr Chia.
Exercise to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joints is recommended for those with joint hypermobility under the supervision of physiotherapists and occupational therapists. This could include regular, ongoing training regimes of swimming, light weights and gentle stretches that focus on balance.
Avoidance of activities that might cause pain or injury such as sprains is advised until the muscles have been strengthened adequately.
Cognitive-based psychological therapy to help manage the pain is also recommended.
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