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Joint hypermobility syndrome

Joint hypermobility syndrome

Joint hypermobility syndrome is when you have very flexible joints, which causes joint pain. You might refer to yourself as being double-jointed, as you’re particularly supple and can move your limbs into positions others might find impossible. Read more about the causes, symptoms, and how to treat joint hypermobility syndrome.

Joint hypermobility syndrome

Joint hypermobility syndrome (sometimes referred to as benign joint hypermobility syndrome) is when you have very flexible joints, which causes joint pain. You'll be able to move some or all your joints more than most people, and you might refer to yourself as being double-jointed. Read more about the causes, symptoms, and how to treat joint hypermobility syndrome.

Children and young people are more likely to be affected by joint hypermobility syndrome, and it often gets better as you get older.

Joint hypermobility syndrome symptoms

If you have joint hypermobility syndrome, you might experience these symptoms:

  • Fatigue, even after rest
  • Joint pain and stiffness or muscle pain and stiffness
  • Regular injuries, like sprains and strains
  • Joints easily dislocate or ‘pop out’
  • Poor balance or co-ordination
  • Thin or stretchy skin
  • Bladder or bowel problems (like constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Some people with joint hypermobility syndrome will not have any symptoms.

What causes joint hypermobility syndrome?

Joint hypermobility syndrome can be caused by:

  • Weak or stretched ligaments - As collagen fibres are weaker, there will be more elasticity in the ligaments that help to hold the joints together
  • Bone shape - The range of movement in your joints will be greater if the socket part of your joint is particularly shallow
  • Muscle tone - The more relaxed your muscles are, the more movement you’ll have in your joints
  • Proprioception (the sense of joint movement) - You might find it difficult to sense or feel the position of a joint without being able to see it

Joint hypermobility syndrome (sometimes referred to as benign joint hypermobility syndrome) is often hereditary and can’t be prevented. It’s part of a spectrum of hypermobility disorders which includes Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

Joint hypermobility syndrome test

The GP will use a Beighton score test to assess the range of movement in some of your joints. It isn’t used to confirm a diagnosis, as it’s important to look at all your joints.

The Beighton score is made up of five tests, and checks if you can:

  • Bend your knee backwards
  • Bend your elbow backwards
  • Bend your thumb backwards to touch your forearm
  • Bend your little finger back more than 90 degrees
  • Put your hands flat on the floor while your knees stay straight (while standing).

If your Beighton score is four or more, and you have had pain in four or more joints for at least three months – it’s likely you have joint hypermobility syndrome.

To find out if you have joint hypermobility syndrome, a doctor might take blood tests and X-rays to rule out other conditions associated with joint pains, like arthritis.

Treatment for joint hypermobility syndrome

There’s no cure for joint hypermobility syndrome, but it can be improved by strengthening your muscles and increasing your fitness, so your joints are better protected.

If you have joint hypermobility syndrome, specialist physical therapies like physiotherapy, occupational therapy or podiatry can help to:

  • Reduce pain and the risk of dislocations
  • Improve muscle strength and fitness
  • Improve your posture and balance

Treating joint pain

Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, may help to ease your joint pain if you have joint hypermobility syndrome.

A doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers if you need them or refer you to a pain clinic if your joint pain is severe.

To help reduce joint pain and stiffness, you could:

  • Have warm baths
  • Use hot water bottles
  • Apply heat-rub cream

Joint hypermobility syndrome self-care

There are several ways you can care for your joints yourself if you have joint hypermobility syndrome, which will improve your joint and muscle strength and reduce strain. These can include:

  • Low-impact exercise, like swimming or cycling
  • Maintaining a healthy weight - being underweight will make muscles weaker. If you’re overweight, it will put more strain on your joints
  • Wearing supportive footwear with good arch supports
  • Wearing special insoles (orthotics) in your shoes if a podiatrist has recommended them.

If you have joint hypermobility syndrome, it’s vital not to overextend your joints (just because you can) and avoid repetitive exercises or activities by taking regular breaks. A doctor might also recommend splints, braces or taping to protect affected joints during exercise or other activities.

Joint hypermobility syndrome diet

There’s no specific joint hypermobility syndrome diet, but regular low-impact exercise (like swimming or cycling), and a healthy, balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight can help.

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: