Double-jointed teenagers in new chronic pain research

Published on 01 January 2008

Teenagers in Bristol are to take part in a major new research project aimed at finding out if children who are double-jointed are at increased risk of developing joint and muscle pain during adolescence.

Medical research charity Arthritis Research UK has awarded more than £116,500 to researchers and doctors at the University of Bristol and the Royal Bristol Children’s Hospital to carry out the three-year study.

The youngsters are all part of the unique population-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), also known as 'Children of the 90s,' which has followed up to 5,000 children from birth to the age of 17.

“Children who are doubled-jointed (a condition also known as joint hypermobility) may be at increased risk of developing chronic musculoskeletal pain which can affect their ability to do everyday activities, and also their schooling,” explained principal investigator Dr Jon Tobias, reader in rheumatology at the University of Bristol.

Dr Tobias is heading the study with a Bristol-based clinical team, including Dr Jacqui Clinch, a paediatric rheumatologist, who with colleagues, is currently setting up an adolescent chronic pain clinic at the Royal Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Chronic pain in the joints and muscles affects between 15 and 20 per cent of children and teenagers, and may persist into adulthood.

“Understanding the relationship between joint hypermobility in childhood and the future risk of chronic pain is important, as, if the two are connected, we could then offer these youngsters treatment such as physiotherapy and exercise,” added Dr Tobias. The team will also be looking at other possible connecting factors such as social class, co-ordination and clumsiness.

The Bristol team aim to find out if having joint hypermobility in childhood is a predictor of chronic pain developing by the age of 17. Detailed questionnaires will be sent to up to 5,000 teenagers in the ALSPAC cohort asking them about any muscle or joint pain suffered over the past three months and how severe and widespread it was. Researchers will then relate these findings to records of examinations to look for evidence of joint hypermobility, that were carried out when teenagers attended research clinics at 13 years of age.

Chronic pain syndromes in children and teenagers are similar to those suffered by adults, which are little-understood by the medical profession and researchers. However, the Bristol team believe that establishing that joint hypermobility is a contributory factor could be significant and lead to better treatments for affected youngsters throughout the UK, including physiotherapy to improve postural abnormalities and exercise programmes.

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