She (or he) is just flexible!
If your child is a gymnast who spends hours a day stretching, it makes sense that she is very flexible compared to her peers, but if she is naturally “double jointed” in her elbows, knees, fingers, and other joints, it may be that your child is hypermobile.
What is hypermobility? Hypermobility is the ability of a joint to move beyond its normal range. Whereas a typical joint will end its motion when the limb is straight, a hypermobile joint will continue motion past straight and into an unnatural bent position. Oftentimes, people refer to this as being “double jointed”. Typically, a joint stops when straight because the ligaments surrounding it become taught. This is good because it means that our joints have a natural safeguard against being damaged by moving it into a position where it was not made to go. A hypermobile joint has the same ligaments surrounding it. The only difference is that these ligaments are a little more stretched out than normal, which means that they do not protect the joint quite as well as they should. Joint hypermobility tends to be present at birth; ligaments do not usually gain or lose much elasticity over time (although the joint can appear to lose hypermobility over time due to the surrounding muscles naturally losing flexibility as a person ages). It is also typically present in all joints in the body, although it may be more noticeable in the knees, elbows, or fingers. Sometimes, hypermobility is accompanied by unexplained joint pain, but this is not always the case. People with hypermobility are sometimes at risk for increased ankle sprains, scoliosis, or even arthritis later in life.
How can physical therapy help? As we said, there is no cure for hypermobility and it will not just go away on its own. A person can, however, prevent injury and learn to maximize living with hypermobile joints by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint so that it has the support it needs and by learning better postures and body mechanics that will help protect the joint, all of which your physical therapist can help with! While we can help provide your child with specific strategies for her particular case, in general, you can protect the joints by: Help your child avoid locking out joints regularly; the most common case of this is seen in the knees when standing. Try to curb the habit of cracking joints. While this may be a pain-relieving technique for someone with hypermobile joints, not only can it damage the joint, there are other more effective pain relieving techniques that your child can try.