I often get asked the question: “Can my child still play sport with hypermobility?” It’s never an easy answer.
Negotiating sport with hypermobility is a big topic and its related questions are ones which I cannot answer with any specificity due to the nature of the ‘behind a computer/mobile device screen’ thing that you and I have going on right now… However, I might be able to give some general guidelines. The very best thing you can do is ask your child’s treating team, in particular, their doctor or physiotherapist.
It’s important to remember that there is a spectrum on hypermobility ranging from mild to severe. A child could have hypermobility in one or two joints, or they could have it extremely wide-spread. It’s therefore paramount that health professionals are involved in helping you make decisions about what is and isn’t appropriate for YOUR CHILD in regards to physical activity and their joints.
The following relate to kids who are significantly hypermobile, more so than the milder end of the spectrum, and are just thoughts, they don’t constitute medical advice.
1. Full blown contact sport is usually a big fat no for kids with widespread/generalised hypermobility… Otherwise, we end up with kids who have ‘big fat knees’ or ‘big fat ankles’ or big, fat, swollen shoulders when they have dislocated them…. And at the worse end of the injury spectrum, cervical spine collars and trips to the emergency department when necks bend in a way they’re not supposed to.
While the concept of no contact sports will be challenging for many families, often dads more so than mums (who are usually quite happy to wrap their precious child in cotton wool and keep them locked in the house for the rest of their lives), this is an important decision. I worked with families who didn’t take our advice initially and then regretted it later when their 9-year-old was navigating primary school with his 3rd shoulder dislocation that year after playing a few games of rugby union. That child was heading towards reconstructive surgery if ever I saw it.
With some families, and maybe this is your family, I had to be blunt. Do you want to risk your child being permanently disabled because you wanted them to play rugby/rugby league/insert other contact sports? Most parents, when they really, truly examine their consciences realise that it’s not worth the risk. Because quite frankly, it’s not.
It’s hard to accept that your child isn’t like all the other kids. It’s hard to accept that they’re a bit more fragile, physically, and are far more likely to get injured than their friends. It’s hard to accept that the dream you had for your child – playing whatever sport you wanted them to play, or that you played – isn’t going to happen.
It’s hard. It’s brutal. But what will be harder and more life-changing is if your child is permanently damaged by “the dream”. You’re the adult, you need to protect them.
2. For most kids, contact sport is ruled out, but that actually leaves quite a lot of physical pursuits to choose from….this is where I can’t be specific, as it depends very much on your child’s individual body. However, let’s say your daughter had lots of knee or ankle issues…. Perhaps netball or even basketball isn’t the best idea. But maybe soccer would be OK? Or tennis? Or swimming? Or table tennis? Or archery? If your child has lots of shoulder and upper limb injuries then maybe swimming, tennis or archery aren’t great ideas, but maybe soccer is ok? These are the kind of decisions that need to be made with your treating team. I cannot, and do not, give you any specific advice on this matter.
3. For almost all kids with hypermobility (and in general), continuing to stay active and mobile is really important. We know that people with hypermobility become deconditioned when they stop being active. It’s really important to keep what (little) muscle tone your child has supporting their joints. This will help keep their joints stronger, less prone to injury and hopefully less susceptible to dislocations.
So whether it’s walking, swimming lessons, riding a bike or scooter… Almost all kids with hypermobility will benefit from moving their body. Again, please talk to your treating team about what’s suitable for your child. I am sure they will do their best to find some kind of physical activity for your child to participate in, both for the physical and psychological benefits that it brings.
For more on Sport with hypermobility click through to Part 2 & Part 3