Kids with hypermobility fall on a very wide spectrum. Some are strong and flexible, allowing them to compete in gymnastics and dance with ease or even excellence. Some kids are prone to injury; they spend more time on the sidelines than on the field. And some need to have P.E. classes adapted for them or substituted with physical therapy.
Wherever your child lands on this spectrum of ability, it is likely that they want to be able to participate in sports, and you want them to be able to do so as well. Engaging in sports delivers a lot of positives: conditioning, ability to work in a group, ability to achieve goals and handle failure/loss, etc. Most therapists and doctors will say that being as physically active as possible enhances a child’s overall wellness and can be protective. But every child is different, and therefore every solution has to be tailored to the individual.
Here are a few questions to guide your assessment (and involve your child the decision, if they are old enough to be reflective instead of reactive to questions):
- Is this activity a high or low-risk choice? High-risks would include heavy physical contact, such as football. Tennis requires hitting a ball with force and rapid shifts of position with lots of rotation of the trunk and limbs. I am going out on a limb, and say that ballet on-pointe is a high-risk choice for kids with lower-body weakness and instability. The question of risk in any activity has to be combined with what is risky for each child.
- Will endurance be an issue, or will there be flexible breaks? Activities that require a lot of running, such as soccer and lacrosse, may be harder than dance classes.
- Are there ways to support performance, such as braces, kineseotaping or equipment modifications? A great pair of skis or shoes can help tremendously in sports. So can targeted exercises from a physical therapist or a well-trained coach that understands the needs of the hypermobile athlete. Your child may not be able to be on a travel team due to the intense demands and greater risk of injury due to fatigue/strain, but be very satisfied being on a local team.
- Will your child report pain or injury and ask for assistance? Some kids are very proactive, and some will try to hide injuries to stay in the game or on the team. Without this knowledge, no coach or parent is able to make the right/safe choices. Sometimes it’s an age thing, where young children aren’t good communicators or teens are defending their independence at the cost of their health. If you think that your child will hide injuries or push themselves past what is safe for their joints, you will have to think long and hard about the consequences of specific activities.
- Within a specific sport, are there positions or types of participation that are well-suited for your child’s skills and issues? Skiing wide green (easy) slopes and doing half-pipe snowboard tricks are at distinct ends of the spectrum, but a hypermobile child may be quite happy to be out there in any fashion without pain or injury. Goalies are standing for longer periods but running/skating less. Endurance running and sprinting have very different training and participation requirements.
- Sadly, hypermobility can progressively reduce participation in sports. Not for all kids, and not even for kids with current issues. Children can actually be less hypermobile at 12 than they were at 3. They build muscle strength as well. It happens. Therapy and other strategies like nutrition and orthotics can make huge improvements for hypermobile kids who want to play sports. But too often, the child who is pain-free in dance class at 7 isn’t pain-free at 14. This doesn’t have to be a tragedy. Kids can be supported to adjust and adapt so that they are playing and working at their current maximal level. Good physical or occupational therapists can help you figure out how to make athletic activities fun and safe!
For more information regarding hypermobility, please read Hypermobile Kids, Sleep, And The Hidden Problem With Blankets , Can You K-Tape Kids With Connective Tissue Disorders? and Should Hypermobile Kids Sit On Therapy Balls For Schoolwork?.