If a person has scoliosis, this condition can manifest itself in a multitude of different ways. Aside from the most obvious symptom – a visibly curved spine – patients may experience any number of other effects, from back pain and stiffness to muscular imbalance, constipation, and even compromised breathing.
Another condition that seems to be quite common among people with curved spines is hypermobility. Today, we’d like to take a closer look at the relationship between hypermobility and scoliosis, but first…
What is hypermobility?
If you have hypermobility, it means that some of your joints are unusually flexible or have a greater range of movement than normal. Hypermobility is also known as hyperlaxity, and people with hypermobile joints are sometimes said to be ‘double-jointed‘.
Common signs of hypermobility include:
- The ability to bend one’s elbows and/or knees backwards
- The ability to bend one’s little finger back beyond 90 degrees
- The ability to bend one’s thumb backwards to the point where it touches the arm
- The ability to place one’s palms flat on the floor without bending one’s knees
Hypermobility is not necessarily a health problem in and of itself, but it is associated with a number of undesirable symptoms. For instance, individuals with hypermobile joints often also experience:
- Aches and pains in joints/muscles
- Joint dislocations
- Recurrent sprains
When hypermobility is accompanied by symptoms like these, we call it JHS (Joint Hypermobility Syndrome).
What causes hypermobility?
In many cases, hypermobility occurs independently of any other conditions. In other words, hypermobility isn’t always the result of an underlying health issue – some people are just double-jointed with no clear cause.
That being said, hypermobility does sometimes form part of a larger set of symptoms. In particular, hypermobile joints can commonly be found in people with the following conditions:
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) – A condition that’s characterised by stretchy skin that cuts and bruises easily.
- Marfan syndrome – A genetic condition of the body’s connective tissues, resulting in long limbs, flexible joints, and heart problems in some cases.
Both of the above syndromes are also closely associated with curvatures of the spine.
How are hypermobility and scoliosis connected?
Because conditions like Ehlers-Danlos and Marfan syndrome often lead to both hypermobility and scoliosis, it is perhaps unsurprising that many people with curved spines also have hypermobile joints.
Yet the correlation between hypermobility and scoliosis does not appear to be limited to Marfan syndrome / EDS patients. A 2011 study of children with idiopathic scoliosis (i.e. a sideways spinal curvature with no clear underlying cause) showed that joint hypermobility was significantly more common amongst idiopathic scoliosis sufferers than amongst other children. (If you’re interested, you can find the full study here.)
So it seems that if you have scoliosis – regardless of whether your condition is idiopathic or the result of a condition like EDS – you are more likely than average to have hypermobile joints as well.
Treating scoliosis patients with hypermobile joints
Because hypermobile joints have a greater motion range than usual, they are also more susceptible to injury. It is very important for physical therapists to bear this in mind when treating people with hypermobility, as some of the exercises and techniques commonly included in physiotherapy regimes are potentially harmful for patients with overly mobile joints.
Given the high incidence of hypermobility amongst scoliosis patients, our ScolioGold therapists are trained to always be mindful of the risk of over-extension.
Click here to learn more about our exercise-based treatment courses, or contact Scoliosis SOS today if you suffer from curvature of the spine and wish to arrange a consultation.