Joint hypermobility

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What is joint hypermobility?

Hypermobility means that you can move some or all your joints more than most people can. It’s often known as being double-jointed and doctors sometimes refer to it as joint hyperlaxity. For some, like dancers and musicians, having a wide range of movement can have its advantages. However, a minority of people with hypermobile joints experience pain or other symptoms, and this is called joint hypermobility syndrome.

What are the symptoms of joint hypermobility?

Joint hypermobility is very common and most people won’t have any symptoms. For those who do, symptoms may include:
  • muscle strain/pain
  • joint stiffness
  • foot pain
  • backache
  • injured or dislocated joints
  • weakened collagen fibres can cause other symptoms, such as hernias or varicose veins

If the above symptoms occur, then this is known as joint hypermobility syndrome. It may help to think of the difference like this:

Joint hypermobility + symptoms = Joint hypermobility syndrome

What are the complications of joint hypermobility?

People with joint hypermobility may also experience other symptoms, including:
  • mild asthma
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • urinary stress incontinence
  • fainting

Who gets joint hypermobility?

Joint hypermobility is more common in younger people, particularly women. Some people may inherit the condition from a parent. Gymnasts and athletes may acquire it because of the training they do.

What causes joint hypermobility?

Causes of joint hypermobility can include:

 

  • the shape of the bones – e.g. shallow hip or shoulder sockets
  • weak or stretched ligaments
  • your muscle tone (stiffness) – the more relaxed your muscles are, the greater the range of movement
  • a poor sense of joint movement (proprioception) – some people struggle to sense the position of a joint without being able to see it, which may lead to over-stretching
  • inheriting the condition from a parent – about a three-quarters of people affected by joint hypermobility have a previous family history of it

How is joint hypermobility diagnosed?

Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on an examination and your answers to a series of questions based on the Beighton’s score and Brighton criteria.

What treatments are there for joint hypermobility?

If you have symptoms of joint hypermobility then a combination of rest, exercise and physiotherapy will often help, but drug treatments are also available if needed, including:

Surgery is generally not recommended unless you rupture a tendon.

Self-help and daily living for joint hypermobility

The following may be useful for people with hypermobile joints:
  • exercise (although you may want to be careful what types of sports or exercises you do to avoid overstretching your joints – swimming and cycling are recommended)
  • physiotherapy
  • occupational therapy
  • special insoles in the shoes (orthoses)

It’s important to remember that it’s very common to have hypermobile joints and most people won’t have any problems. However, some people will find that their symptoms are so severe they have an effect on everyday life.

What else should I know about joint hypermobility syndrome?

If you have 4 or more hypermobile joints and pains in those joints for 3 months or more, you may have joint hypermobility syndrome.

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