Have you been told that you are double-jointed? The ability to move your extremities beyond regular limits or boundaries is known as ligamentous laxity. But, what is ligamentous laxity?
This condition often affects the joints of the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and knees. Ligamentous laxity symptoms include loose joints, hypermobility syndrome, and joint laxity conditions. We will look at the particular causes of this condition, as well as treatment options.
As children, our joints can hyperextend as the connective tissue is developing. Ligamentous laxity conditions that seem to be harmless in childhood can cause chronic pain and suffering after years of use.
Many cases of loose joints diminish as the person ages, while others can reoccur after the age of 40. Generalized joint hypermobility is a disorder that affects all the joints in the body, and it is often seen with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Ligamentous Laxity Causes
So, what causes loose ligaments? There are ligamentous laxity cases with no apparent cause or origin and are known as a disorder called benign hypermobility syndrome. Other causes of loose joints can include:
- Joint socket depth
- Muscle tone and strength
- Bone shape and structure
- Trauma or damage to the ligaments
- Overstretching of ligaments
Ligamentous laxity is seen in certain developmental and disabling medical conditions such as Down syndrome and Marfan syndrome, which are connective tissue disorders.
Loose joints may also be the result of cleidocranial dysostosis, an inherited disorder affecting bone development. Other inherited disorders include Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects the elasticity of the ligaments and Morquio syndrome, which affects the body’s metabolism.
Ligamentous Laxity Symptoms
The most obvious symptom of ligamentous laxity disorder is the ability to overextend the joints. While this may be a benefit in a few situations, loose ligaments cannot fully support the joints and injuries may occur. While some cases will show no symptoms, signs to watch for include:
- The ability to move joints beyond the normal range of motion
- Persistent numbness or tingling sensations.
- The ability to touch your forearm with your thumb bent backwards
- The capability of placing your hands flat on the floor with your knees straight
- Issues with the spinal canal
- Clumsy or deliberate gait
- Persistent chronic pain from overused and overworked joints
- Pain with certain movements when physically active such as with soccer, running, tennis, and other joint-bending sports
- Experiencing snaps, grinding, or clicking sounds when moving joints
- Joint displacement due to loose ligaments
- The inability to be aware of joint positioning, which can lead to damage
- Frequently swollen knees
- Discomfort or pain when rotating your midsection
- Minor sprains that cause severe pain
- Muscle spasms at joint sources
- Nerve compression when the joint moves out of position and presses onto the nerves
- The development of runner’s knee or chondromalacia patellae (cartilage damage behind the kneecap)
- Varicose veins
- Mitral valve prolapse condition (heart valve not working properly)
- Joints problems with the movement of the jawbone (excessive anterior mandibular movement disorder)
- A uterine prolapse condition where loose ligaments are unable to support the uterus position
- Frequent sprained ankles, back issues, shoulder dislocation, and knee effusions
- Muscle spasms as the joint tissue works to reposition the loose joint
- Referred pain or ghost pain (pain in one joint region with the source being at another joint location)
- Flat feet where the ligaments are not fully supporting the arch in the foot (it can lead to arthritis and deformity)
- Back pain from prolonged sitting, whether it be over time, with sedentary work, or being bedridden due to a medical condition
- Unstable vertebrae that cause sharp, sudden back muscles spasms with a locking feeling when bending
Ligamentous Laxity Diagnosis
A ligamentous laxity diagnosis is determined by evaluating the range of motion of the joint. You can check it yourself by bending a finger backwards; an angle of 90 degrees with no distress confirms loose ligaments.
Medical tests usually start with a Beighton score test. Although some cases of ligamentous laxity may not score on the test, for the most part, the ability to hyperextend joints is based on a numbering score.
Add one point for each knee and elbow that bends more than 10 degrees; one point for each thumb that bends backward to the forearm; one point for each fifth finger bending more than 90 degrees backward, and one point for flat palms on the floor with knees straight. A total of five or more points confirms ligamentous laxity.
Other signs may show symptoms of joint hypermobility syndrome or a connective tissue disorder. Further testing may be required to confirm a diagnosis, which may include an ophthalmologic or an echocardiogram.
Ligamentous Laxity Treatment
Treating ligamentous laxity will depend on the extent of the loose joints, as well as the severity of any existing symptoms. Most serious cases involve strengthening the muscles, the use of pain relievers, and physiotherapy to use ligaments in a controlled manner.
If the laxity is caused by an underlying medical condition, treatment is designed to include additional symptoms. However, if you have been diagnosed with this condition, try the following treatment tips:
- Rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE method) to help with any inflammation and pain caused by injury
- Take prescribed and over-the-counter pain relievers
- Eat a balanced diet to prevent inflammation including proteolytic enzymes found in pineapple and papaya, zinc found in seafood and nuts, and vitamin C found in kale and oranges
- Perform stretches and stationary cycling exercises to help with controlled range of motion
- Avoid strenuous activities to prevent overextending and dislocating your joints
- Use heat and massage for pain relief (myofascial release therapy), which can promote stretch reflex and blood circulation, and help with mobility issues due to loose ligaments
- Perform low resistance exercises to control the movement of loose ligaments while toning muscles (this also helps to delay arthritis)
- Try orthotic therapy to protect the joints of the foot and relieve tension in the calf and heel
- Use supportive ligament devices such as braces and padding during physical activity
Surgery is done as a last resort to repair damage or injury caused by loose ligaments. People with conditions linked to Down syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Marfan syndrome are not surgical candidates.
Ligamentous laxity is a common condition characterized by the ability to move limbs beyond the normal range of motion. People with this condition are known as double-jointed, and can easily perform motions with smooth and painless movements. It is mainly seen in many children, and the majority will outgrow this ability to overextend the joint regions.
Some cases present chronic pain and damaged ligaments over time. Whether it is inherited, a result of an injury, or improper growth development, ligamentous laxity comes with risks of osteoporosis and irreversible ligament damage. Treatment exercises and therapy focus on controlling joint movements and relieving any pain.