Hypermobility, a condition characterized by joints that can move beyond their normal range of motion, is more prevalent than many realize. It affects approximately 20% of the global population. While some individuals with hypermobile joints may not experience any noticeable symptoms, others may face significant challenges due to joint instability and chronic pain. Interestingly, increased joint flexibility can provide advantages in certain sports such as gymnastics. However, it can also lead to issues like frequent joint dislocations and persistent fatigue.
The underlying cause of hypermobility lies in the connective tissues that support the joints, including ligaments, tendons, and muscles. These tissues contain collagen, the primary building block of connective tissue, which comes in various types with differing levels of firmness and stretchiness. Individuals with hypermobility often have a higher proportion of stretchy collagen in their ligaments, contributing to joint laxity and increased mobility. Collagen is not only found in joints and ligaments but also in other parts of the body, leading to a myriad of symptoms such as digestive issues (IBS, reflux, constipation, nausea, bloating), circulatory issues (dizziness, brain fog, racing heart, fainting), sleep disturbances, anxiety/depression, bladder issues (frequency, loss of urine), hormonal issues (painful/heavy periods, endometriosis), frequent bruising, stretch marks, and clumsiness.
While hypermobility itself is not a diagnosis, it is often associated with a range of different disorders, including Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD) and genetic conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Marfan Syndrome, Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, Coffin-Lowry Syndrome, Stickler Syndrome, Nail Patella Syndrome, and Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Many of these conditions, including Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD), exhibit a broad spectrum of symptoms beyond joint hypermobility, including dysautonomia, POTS, gastrointestinal issues, pelvic organ prolapse, anxiety disorders, and sleep disturbances.
Assessing hypermobility typically involves using the Beighton Criteria, with a score of 5 or higher in adults (6 or higher in children) indicating hypermobility. However, it's essential to recognize that not everyone with hypermobility experiences significant issues. In fact, many individuals, including elite athletes, can manage their condition effectively and lead fulfilling lives.
Despite its prevalence, there remains a significant lack of awareness and understanding of hypermobility within the medical and allied health community. As a result, individuals living with hypermobility often find themselves in the position of educating healthcare professionals about their condition. Increasing awareness and recognition of hypermobility's impact on individuals' lives is crucial for improving diagnosis, treatment, and support for those affected by this condition.