Joint hypermobility is when someone’s joints are more flexible than normal, often to the point at which they are painful and cause the person a variety of other problems. Joint hypermobility can also be a symptom of a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects connective tissue throughout the body. Up to 1 in 5 people in the UK may have some degree of joint hypermobility, with the figure being 1 in 5,000 for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
What are the signs and symptoms of joint hypermobility?
Joint hypermobility occurs when the collagen in the tissues which normally help support the joints is abnormal. This causes symptoms such as:
- Aching and tenderness
- Frequently dislocated joints
- Poor balance and coordination
- Recurring sprains and strains
How is joint hypermobility diagnosed and treated?
A GP can test joint flexibility using the Beighton score. There is no cure for joint hypermobility, but a GP can recommend treatment to make living with the condition easier.
Physiotherapy can help someone with the condition manage it, such as by strengthening the muscles to better support the joints. Physio or occupational therapy can also help someone with the condition work on their balance and reduce the risk of dislocations.
A GP may also suggest taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, or using heat packs or supports for wrists, hands, etc.
Self-treatment may also include:
- Low-impact exercise like swimming, rather than heavy-impact exercise like running, which could exacerbate symptoms
- Maintaining a healthy weight to reduce undue pressure on joints
- Wearing good quality, supportive footwear
- Eliminating activities which require tight gripping of objects
There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for an employee with joint hypermobility:
An employer can ask questions regarding the nature of an employee’s joint hypermobility and what extra support they may need can be broached sensitively. For example:
- Have they required adjustments in the past? For example, avoiding certain types of manual tasks which might exacerbate their symptoms.
- Encouraging the employee to express their strengths and interests and which tasks they might enjoy doing is a positive way of adapting to their needs.
What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with joint hypermobility?
Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with joint hypermobility if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has joint hypermobility. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.
If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance upfront, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of joint hypermobility:
- Flexible return-to-work policy to accommodate an employee who may need to take time off as a result of their joint hypermobility, such as if there is a flare-up in symptoms and movement is very difficult.
- Allowance for regular breaks to reduce the impact on parts of the body susceptible to pains, including time to break if the employee is taking pain medication for their condition which may affect their concentration, or to prepare a hot water bottle or heat pack to alleviate pain. People with joint hypermobility can also experience extreme fatigue, which may require them to take more frequent breaks.
- Adjustments to duties depending on the severity of their symptoms, which may be variable and improve or deteriorate from one week to the next. This may include delegating tasks requiring use of vibrating tools or gripping objects to colleagues.
- Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s joint hypermobility.
- Ergonomic equipment to reduce pressure on the joints while sitting at a desk or performing other duties. This may include wrist supports, adapted keyboards, pen grips.
Joint hypermobility Signposting
Ehlers-Danlos Support UK – organisation offering support to people with EDS, including physical and virtual support groups, as well as working to improve the medical care people with the condition receive, and awareness of the condition among the general public (0800 907 8518).
Hypermobility Syndromes Association – organisation supporting people with different types of hypermobility, as well as the medical professionals who treat them. This is done through support groups and by improving research into hypermobility (033 3011 6388).
Other Research Resources