Being double-jointed or hypermobile to give it its proper name, may be the cause of serious pain in under-18s but most parents put their children’s complaints about pain down to growing pains and often don’t take them seriously when they complain about pain.
Jolene Sher, a physiotherapist at London’s Boost Physio says this is a big mistake as some children and teens really suffer.
“If they complain about unexplained muscle and joint pain, are clumsy or fidget a lot, sit in strange positions and find exercise really difficult because they say it hurts, don’t ignore them. Often they are hypermobile (meaning their joints and muscles are more bendy) and the pains they are experiencing are because they have low tone or weak muscles. Issues relating to hypermobility can be easily treatable but still painful and common in children and teens”.
Jolene, who has an interest in under-18s with hypermobility, has noticed an increase in the number of young patients coming to see her with symptoms associated with being hypermobile.
“Lack of activity is one of the major causes, and once more serious conditions have been ruled out by a GP or rheumatologist, physiotherapy is the best way to treat this common condition” she says.
A lot of the problems stem from weak muscles and joints, and along with many other symptoms from untreated hypermobility can lead to poor posture which if not corrected can lead to a lifetime of back problems.
“So many children these days have low muscle tone and lack basic strength which years ago was not that common. Hypermobility is becoming more common because so many children lead sedentary lives these days. They don’t exercise enough and rather than running around outside with their friends, most teens social lives take place through their phone or computer. The pressure of increased homework also cuts into valuable exercise time”, says Jolene.
Not exercising can only make it worse and it can become a viscous cycle, because if you are in pain you are less inclined to exercise and will use the pain as an excuse, and then of course long periods of inactivity makes the symptoms worse, as core and muscle strength diminishes and the pain gets worse.
There is a simple solution and that is to gently exercise more. The trick is to slowly introduce a programme to build up muscle strength and tone. Once a diagnosis of hypermobility has been made it is important to work with a physiotherapist to learn to do the correct exercises and of course to stick with them.
Pains and issues associated with hypermobility can start from an early age, but usually are at the most noticeable around the ages of 12-14 which is why it’s often confused with mythical growing pains. Children start complaining of pain in their lower or upper back, in their spine and in their neck. Sometimes it manifests as heel or knee pain and the pains really can be quite bad. Physiotherapy to treat the painful areas and then tackling the underlying weakness/muscle issues is the way to go for these types of youngsters.
Another group of children that are affected by hypermobility are on the other side of the coin. These are the super sporty, super active kids that may be very fit but who still suffer from muscle and joint pain because their muscle strength or length is not as good as their aerobic fitness, so they too can suffer. We need to build up strength and tone in the specific areas needed to get them back to their sports and activity.
“It’s not a quick fix, and about six months of daily, specifically tailored exercises should really help. Also getting more involved in sport and exercise in and out of school will speed up recovery. However, this is not something you can do for six months and then go back to your old ways, but hopefully the relief of pain and the improvement in overall strength and fitness will encourage under-18s to keep up their new regime”, says Jolene.