Tag Archives: joint laxity

The Hypermobile Hand

 

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I just received another referral for a kid with “weak’ hands.  Can’t hold a pencil correctly, can’t make a dark enough mark on paper when he writes or colors.  But his mom says he has quite a grip on an object when he doesn’t want to hand something over.  He plays soccer without problems and otherwise functions well in a regular classroom.  Could it be that hypermobility is his real problem?

Some children display problems with fine motor skills due to low muscle tone alone.  Many times, their low tone is significant enough to create poor joint alignment and stability, resulting in joint hypermobility as well as low muscle tone.  But kids can have joint laxity with typical muscle tone.  Assessing the difference between tone, strength, alignment and endurance is why you get an evaluation from a skilled therapist.  And even then, it can be tricky to determine etiology with the youngest children because they cannot follow directions or answer questions.  Time to take out your detective hat and drill down into patient history and do a full assessment.

With older kids, both low tone and joint laxity can lead them over time to develop joint deformity.  Like a tire that you never rotated, inappropriate wear and tear can create joint, ligament and tendon problems that result in worse alignment, less stability and endurance, and even pain.  And yes, weakness is often observed or reported, but it often is dependent on posture and task demands, rather than being consistent.

What does the classic hypermobile hand look like?  Here are some common presentations:

  • The small joints of the fingers and thumb look “swaybacked”, as the joint capsule is unstable and the tendons of the hand exert their pull without correct ligament support.
  • The arches of the hand aren’t supported, so the palm looks flat at rest and during grasp.  By late preschool, the arches of the hand should be evident in both states.
  • The fleshy bases of the thumb and pinky ( for all you therapists, the thenar and hypothenar eminences) aren’t pronounced, due to the lack of support reducing muscle development during daily use.
  • Grasp and pinch patterns are immature and/or atypical.  A preschooler uses a fisted grasp to scribble, a grade-school child uses two hands to hold an object that should be held by one hand and a “hook” grasp on a pencil.
  • Grasp and pinch may start out looking great, and deteriorate with the need for force.  Or prehension begins looking poor and improves for a while, until fatigue sets in.

Don’t forget that hypermobility creates poor sensory processing feedback loops.  Reduced proprioception and kinesthesia will result in issues grading force and controlling movement without compensation such as visual attention and decreased speed.

For ideas to address the difficulties children face when they have hypermobility in their hands, take a look at For Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Does An Atypical Pencil Grasp Damage Joints or Support Function In Kids With Hypermobility?.  Depending on the age and skill level of the child, adaptations and education can be just as important as therapeutic exercise.

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Hypermobility in Young Children: When Flexibility Isn’t Functional

Your grandma would have called it being ” double jointed”.   Your mom might mention that she was the most flexible person in every yoga class she attended.  But when extra joint motion reduces your child’s performance or creates pain, parents get concerned.  Sometimes pediatricians and orthopedists do not.

Why would that happen?  A measure of flexibility is considered medically within the norm for children and teens.  Doctors often have no experience with rehab professionals, so they can’t share other resources with parents.  This can mask some significant issues with mild to moderate hypermobility in children.  Parents leave the doctor’s office without a diagnosis or advice, even in the face of their child’s discomfort or their struggles with handwriting or recurrent sports injuries.  Who takes hypermobility seriously?  Your child’s OT and PT.

Therapists are the specialists who analyze functional performance and create effective strategies to improve stability and independence.  I will give a shout-out to orthotists, physiatrists and osteopaths for solutions such as splints and prolotherapy.  Their role is essential but limited, especially with younger children. Nobody is going to issue a hand splint or inject the ligaments of a child under 5 unless a child’s condition is becoming very poor very quickly.  Adaptations, movement education and physical treatments are better tolerated and result in more functional gains for most middle and moderately involved hypermobile children.  Take a look at Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children to understand more about what an OT can do to help your child.

Low tech doesn’t mean low quality or low results.  I have done short consults with children that involve only adaptations to sitting and pencil choice for handwriting, with a little ergonomic advice and education of healthy pacing of tasks thrown in.  All together, we manage to extend the amount of time a child can write without pain.  Going full-tilt paperless is possible when pain is extreme, but it involves getting the teachers and the district involved.  Not only is that time-consuming and difficult to coordinate, it is overkill for those mildly involved kids who don’t want to stand out.  Almost nothing is worse in middle school than appearing “different”.  A good OT and a good PT can help a child prevent future problems, make current ones evaporate, or minimize a child’s dependence and pain.

Hypermobile kids are often bright and resourceful, and once they learn basic principles of ergonomics and joint protection, the older children can solve some of their own problems.  For every child that is determined to force their body to comply with their will to compete without adaptation, I meet many kids that understand that well-planned movements are smarter and give them less pain with more capability.  But they have to have the knowledge in order to use it.  Therapists give them that power.

Parents:  please feel free to comment and share all your great solutions for your child with hypermobility, so that we all can learn from YOU!

Is your hypermobile child also struggling with toilet training or incontinence?  Check out Low Tone and Toilet Training: Learning to Hold It In Long Enough to Make It to The Potty  to gain an understanding of how motor and sensory issues contribute to this problem, and how you can help your child today!