Who gets joint hypermobility?

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Joint hypermobility is very common, and whether you’re affected or not can be down to such factors as your gender, ethnic background, age and whether you inherited it from your parents.

Genetics

There’s fairly strong evidence that joint hypermobility can be inherited when it’s caused by abnormal collagen. However, members of the same family may be affected differently. Providing your partner isn’t affected, half of your children are likely to inherit the condition, though how much each child is affected varies a lot. Girls are often affected more than boys.

Where joint hypermobility affects one or a small number of joints, particularly the hip and/or shoulder, suggesting shallow sockets in these joints, the condition is also likely to be inherited.

We don’t yet know whether joint hypermobility resulting from poor sense of joint movement (proprioception) is inherited. About a quarter of people affected by joint hypermobility have no previous family history of it.

Gender

Women tend to be more supple than men of the same age because of the effect of a hormone called relaxin (which allows the pelvis to expand during childbirth). Women are therefore more likely than men to have hypermobile joints.

Age

The collagen fibres in your ligaments tend to bind together more as you get older, which is one reason why many of us become stiffer with age. This means that joint hypermobility is more common in younger people. Hypermobile people who are very flexible and pain-free when younger may find that they’re less flexible and find stretching movements more uncomfortable when they’re in their 30s or 40s.

Ethnic background

People of different ethnic backgrounds have differences in their joint mobility, which may reflect differences in the structure of the collagen proteins. For example, people from the Indian sub-continent often have much more supple hands than Europeans.

Other factors

Joint hypermobility can sometimes be developed, for example by gymnasts and athletes, through the training exercises they do. Yoga can also make the joints more supple by relaxing the muscles.

Many people with Down’s syndrome are hypermobile.

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