Most people have known someone who is “double-jointed.” These are people whose joints are so flexible that they can move them in unusual ways. Remember the kid in school who could bend their thumb all the way back to their forearm, or the gymnast who could assume the most unlikely positions? In the most extreme examples, these people can be seen on talent shows and in circuses, performing as “contortionists.”
But what is double-jointedness and what does that mean for joints?
Of course, being double-jointed doesn’t mean you have two joints where there should be only one. The proper term for this extreme flexibility in the joints is “hypermobility.” It’s fairly common, often seen in children and adolescents, and it occurs more often in women and those belonging to certain ethnic groups.
In many people, it’s not a problem at all. In fact, the greater range of movement can be of benefit to athletes and dancers, and often comes with no medical consequences.
In some cases, it appears to be genetic, running in certain families. It’s thought that some people inherit a gene that affects the production of collagen, a protein found in the cartilage that helps hold joints together. In these cases, the collagen may be softer than normal, allowing for a wider range of motion than most people have.
It may also be caused by the bone structure of the joint. In the ball-and-socket joints—specifically, shoulders and hips—the socket may be shallow, allowing looser movement than found in someone with a deeper socket.
Children who are hypermobile may experience joint or muscle pain--sometimes described as growing pains—but they have no other negative symptoms. As they grow up, their joints become less flexible and any associated pain goes away with time.
However, sometimes hypermobility comes along with other problematic conditions.
Hypermobility syndrome can also involve inflammation, stiffness, joint popping and frequent sprains because of how loose the joints are. While not everyone who is hypermobile has a connective tissue or bone disorder, the condition can be a symptom of bigger problems. These include:
Marfan syndrome. This is a genetic disease that affects connective tissue in about 1 out of every 5,000 people. It doesn’t just cause joint problems, however. It also affects the heart and eyes. People with Marfan tend to be very tall and thin, with extremely long arms and a curved spine.
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. This is another genetic disorder that affects the skin, joints and circulatory system. This can result in ruptured organs and blood vessels. It also can make the skin very fragile and stretchy, and can cause osteoarthritis to occur at an early age.
Osteoenesis imperfecta. While this genetic disorder affects the bones more than connective tissue, it can come with loose joints and ligaments, as well as weak muscles. This is a serious condition that also affects many other body parts, including the heart, eyes, teeth, skin and spine.
When joints become a problem
In adults, hypermobility is usually not nearly as common as it is in children. Even if you were extremely flexible as a kid, you probably aren’t any more. In fact, over time, collagen production diminishes in our bodies, and this can lead to stiffness and pain rather than excessively loose joints. If you’re experiencing discomfort in your joints as an adult, you should definitely get it checked out.
Before you decide you must avoid your favorite activities and simply tolerate the hurt, consult the joint specialists at Flexogenix™. They’ll carefully evaluate your joints and recommend a non-surgical course of regenerative treatment that harnesses the body’s own natural healing potential. Why wait?