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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2005 Jun;44(6):744-50. Epub 2005 Feb 22.

Joint hypermobility syndrome in childhood. A not so benign multisystem disorder?

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Arthritis Research Campaign Unit, School of Epidemiology, Stopford Building, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK.



Joint hypermobility (JH) or "ligamentous laxity" is felt to be an underlying risk factor for many types of musculoskeletal presentation in paediatrics, and joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS) describes such disorders where symptoms become chronic, often more generalized and associated with functional impairment. Clinical features are felt to have much in common with more severe disorders, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), osteogenesis imperfecta and Marfan syndrome, although this has not been formally studied in children. We defined the clinical characteristics of all patients with joint hypermobility-related presentations seen from 1999 to 2002 in a tertiary referral paediatric rheumatology unit.


Patients were identified and recruited from paediatric rheumatology clinic and ward, and a dedicated paediatric rheumatology hypermobility clinic at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Data were collected retrospectively on the patients from the paediatric rheumatology clinics (1999-2002) and prospectively on patients seen in the hypermobility clinic (2000-2002). Specifically, historical details of developmental milestones, musculoskeletal or soft tissue diagnoses and symptoms, and significant past medical history were recorded. Examination features sought included measurements of joint and soft tissue laxity, and associated conditions such as scoliosis, dysmorphic features, cardiac murmurs and eye problems.


One hundred and twenty-five children (64 females) were included on whom sufficient clinical data could be identified and who had clinical problems ascribed to JH present for longer than 3 months. Sixty-four were from the paediatric rheumatology clinic and 61 from the hypermobility clinic. No differences were found in any of the measures between the two populations and results are presented in a combined fashion. Three-quarters of referrals came from paediatricians and general practitioners but in only 10% was hypermobility recognized as a possible cause of joint complaint. The average age at onset of symptoms was 6.2 yr and age at diagnosis 9.0 yr, indicating a 2- to 3-yr delay in diagnosis. The major presenting complaint was arthralgia in 74%, abnormal gait in 10%, apparent joint deformity in 10% and back pain in 6%. Mean age at first walking was 15.0 months; 48% were considered "clumsy" and 36% as having poor coordination in early childhood. Twelve per cent had "clicky" hips at birth and 4% actual congenital dislocatable hip. Urinary tract infections were present in 13 and 6% of the female and male cases, respectively. Thirteen and 14%, respectively, had speech and learning difficulties diagnosed. A history of recurrent joint sprains was seen in 20% and actual subluxation/dislocation of joints in 10%. Forty per cent had experienced problems with handwriting tasks, 48% had major limitations of school-based physical education activities, 67% other physical activities and 41% had missed significant periods of schooling because of symptoms. Forty-three per cent described a history of easy bruising. Examination revealed that 94% scored > or =4/9 on the Beighton scale for generalized hypermobility, with knees (92%), elbows (87%), wrists (82%), hand metacarpophalangeal joints (79%), and ankles (75%) being most frequently involved.


JHS is poorly recognized in children with a long delay in the time to diagnosis. Although there is a referral bias towards joint symptoms, a surprisingly large proportion is associated with significant neuromuscular and motor development problems. Our patients with JHS also show many overlap features with genetic disorders such as EDS and Marfan syndrome. The delay in diagnosis results in poor control of pain and disruption of normal home life, schooling and physical activities. Knowledge of the diagnosis and simple interventions are likely to be highly effective in reducing the morbidity and cost to the health and social services.

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