Infant Hypermobility: Pros and Cons

Amazing acrobatics, fingers that stretch back unnaturally, dislocations, scoliosis, and anxiety disorders may all have a common factor behind them: infant hypermobility. Learn more about this condition in this article!
Infant Hypermobility: Pros and Cons

Last update: 25 June, 2021

Infant hypermobility is a common asymptomatic condition in children under the age of 5 that causes joints to move outside their normal limits. It occurs when collagen levels in tendons and ligaments are altered, making the fibers thinner and less stiff.

It occurs, on average, in 30% of the child population, being more common in girls than in boys, in a ratio of 3 to 1. Although it decreases with age, in 2% of cases, it’s prolonged in time.

In this article, we’ll reveal some characteristics that allow for the diagnosis of this condition. At the same time, we’ll take a look at the advantages as well as the disadvantages of infant hypermobility and, most importantly, we’ll tell you when to be concerned.

What causes hypermobility?

Infant hypermobility is genetic in nature. Studies indicate that it originates in a mutation in the fibers that make up the tendons, muscles, and skin.

These have the particularity of stretching and returning to their shape, or of deforming and adopting a new one, which is known as plasticity.

This is where the proteins that form the tissues act: Collagen and elastin. When there’s more elastin than collagen, the muscles become more elastic and, therefore, the ligaments more fragile. Therefore, it’s very easy for injuries in the musculoskeletal system to occur.

What are the pros?

In physical activities such as gymnastics, ballet, dance, or acrobatics, hypermobility can be positive because it offers a flexibility that borders on astonishing. It’s also beneficial in the playing of instruments, such as the flute, violin, or piano, which require special agility in the fingers.

In the specific case of those with hypermobility, the distension and constant tension of repeated movements don’t produce pain in the way it does in those performers who are less flexible.

Three young girls getting ready for a race.
For certain sports and extracurricular practices, hypermobility is an advantage that facilitates movements.

The disadvantages of infant hypermobility

Infant hypermobility can be interpreted as an advantage in the aforementioned physical activities, even if specialists recommend being careful. Muscle weakness and motor clumsiness can be a problem, and even delays in psychomotor development can occur.

Joint dislocations, tendinitis, back pain, scoliosis, osteoarthritis of the knees, and, according to research, anxiety, and depression tend to appear. These problems are not usually associated with joint hypermobility. Some symptoms deserve particular attention.

Muscle hypotonia

Muscle weakness causes delayed psychomotor development, turning, sitting, crawling, and walking. These infants have very flexible joints, bend easily, and their muscle tone does not resist movement.

These babies don’t kick and the limbs are more stretched than normal. Face-down, they become desperate because they can’t support themselves on their arms or lift their head. When they finally stand up, they seek to spread their legs, their feet turn outward, and their knees go backward.

The inhibition of muscle activity

As a result of pain, inhibition occurs, which results in muscular hypotrophy. This, in turn, decreases exercise tolerance and, therefore, reduces the child’s participation in sports and games. Delays in psychomotor development and gait acquisition are also a possibility.

You may be interested in: Congenital Hip Dislocation in Babies

Scoliosis and other postural problems

Studies point to a statistical relationship between joint hypermobility and scoliosis, due to postural alterations. This causes curvatures in the posterior part of the spine, known as kyphosis, and increased curvature in the lumbar area.

Many have flat feet as well as knees that are close together and displaced backward.

Advice and recommendations for parents

A child with hypermobility should learn about their condition to prevent the constant repetition of joint movements that are outside the normal range. It will be difficult to control this natural hyperactivity and the child will likely seek to attract an audience with their contortionist skills.

Now, as the abnormal bending of joints isn’t necessarily a good thing, as stated by doctors, we’ll offer certain recommendations that will be useful:

  • Since there’s no specific treatment, parents should educate the child on the need to protect their joints from prolonged overextension.
  • Try to steer the child towards sports and exercises that work the muscles and improve balance, stability, and motor dexterity.
  • If the child diagnosed with hypermobility is an infant, parents should seek to strengthen the child’s muscle tone. To do this, it would be best to consult a physical therapist for specialized advice.
  • Among the recommended exercises to do at home are those that keep the baby face down, a position that, given the condition, they won’t like at all. These help little ones strengthen their back, neck, and hip. However, as they find this bothersome, you’ll need to stimulate them with toys or sounds that make them raise their head.

When to seek medical treatment for infant hypermobility?

Infant hypermobility can be fun until the pain appears. It’s not common, since only 5 to 10% of hypermobile or very flexible people suffer discomfort. And if it happens, you must go to the doctor because you may be looking at joint hypermobility syndrome.

The Beighton scale is the most commonly used to know if a person is hypermobile. For example, among the maneuvers it involves are touching the forearm with the thumb, extending the fingers to more than 90 degrees, or touching the floor with the palm of the hands without bending the knees. If the child scores 6 out of the 9 points on the scale, it’s a positive case of joint hypermobility.

This aggravated disorder causes pain in the joints and bones, even when holding a pencil for a while. It’s also accompanied by discomfort in the hips and knees and flat feet, bruxism, fatigue, and weakness.

Benign hypermobility syndrome is different from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is also congenital and also affects the connective tissue. EDS causes vascular and ocular problems and hypersensitivity of the skin. It’s also accompanied by regular dislocations, spinal deformities, muscle hypotonia, and joint effusions.

A pediatrician examining a newborn baby.
If the diagnosis is made in early infancy, there are some exercises that parents can do with infants to stimulate them.

Infant hypermobility requires constant exercise

The call to parents is to pay attention to manifestations that may reveal major problems. The condition isn’t easy to diagnose because the symptoms are diffuse. However, pain gives the alarm signal.

Once a child’s diagnosed with benign hypermobility, they should follow the guidelines for treatment. This includes a balanced diet, exercise, participation in school activities, and quality sleep. Avoid overloading the joints (e.g., heavy school bag) and extreme or contact sports.

Having made these considerations, it’s important to emphasize that periods of inactivity increase the symptoms of hypermobility. In this regard, a progressive resistance exercise program focused on specific muscles is recommended. Finally, cycling and swimming are among the first choices of healthy exercise for this.

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