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
My 14 yrs old daughter and I are both suspected of having EDS. Not sure what “type” yet. We are due to undergo genetic testing soon. My 6 yrs old son will also be tested. He doesn’t show the signs we do; however, we didn’t start showing “signs” until we each hit 14 yrs old, although the signs were always there, but they were never realized, when we stop to think about it. Both of my kids are in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and my little boy does kick boxing for kids. My daughter has been doing BJJ off and on for almost 2 yrs. She has never received any major injuries except recently she fell on her arm and bent her wrist backwards. It looked dislocated but ended up not being anything more than a sprain. Doc said she still had a lot of growth going on in her wrist so that helped her. She has also had a jammed thumb from BJJ. She loves BJJ though and wants to do it. She has competed in 2 competitions and done really well. Her orthopedic doctor said that he is pleased with her doing BJJ. He said that it is not too dangerous of a sport for someone who may have EDS. She does run the risk of breaking a bone, but I do realize that I can’t shelter my children. I fractured and dislocated my wrist, at 15, doing gymnastics. I never went to the doctor until 6 weeks after the injury because I thought it was just sprained. I’m 37 now and have arthritis in my wrist. I know how important physical activity was for me and still is. I really want to do BJJ with my kids, and I do plan to; however, I recently tried out a class and ended up almost passing out twice. I saw my doc about it and was referred for cardiology. I had a tilt table test done and came back positive for neurocardiogenic syncope, which is common in the Vascular type of EDS. I have a lot of vascular health history, so I really do feel that if I do have EDS that it will be the vascular type, which is the more serious type. Because of this, the cardiologist has ordered for me to undergo stress testing and also an echocardiogram, which I just had done the other day. Once those tests come back and we know if I’m dealing with a heart issue or not, then I plan to sign up for BJJ and Cross-Fit. If it comes back that I’m looking at a more serious cardiac issue, then I will need to reconsider. My kids’ pediatrician already assessed my daughter for orthostatics, which is the first sign of neurocardiogenic syncope, and she didn’t have it, which makes me happy. I didn’t have problems with this, when I was her age, either. It came on just recently, so hopefully she won’t ever have to deal with this. All in all, sports and exercise will usually do more good than harm. You just have to find a healthy and SAFE balance. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I always love hearing about different sports that children with hypermobility are having success at. That’s great!
Unfortunately for some children it won’t be a safe sport, depending on their individual circumstances and where their previous injuries have been and what their greatest “at-risk” joints are. Every person with hypermobility is so different to the next, which is why I can’t give any specific advice. No two bendy bodies are the same!
I hope all goes well with your testing! Thanks again for sharing!
I wish I know about my hypermobility issues earlier. I rolled my ankles so many times it didn’t hurt when I did it again, and again, and again. I could bend myself into a human pretzel, but eventually I couldn’t stand, walk, run without special supports and equipment to “hold” my hips together. I see the early early signs in my oldest daughter, who loves sports, and I focus on low impact sports like swimming and soccer since it seems to be worse in her ankles and knees right now.