Joint Laxity and Osteoarthritis

Are loose and unstable joints a cause or a consequence of osteoarthritis?

Knee pain
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Osteoarthritis is a common condition characterized by joint degeneration, pain, and stiffness. It has also been associated with excessive joint flexibility, including varying degrees of joint instability, hypermobility, and laxity. These conditions, which are characterized by an increased range of joint motion, can predispose you to have a joint injury.

If you have osteoarthritis, it is helpful to recognize the signs of excessive joint mobility. Early diagnosis, exercises, and joint stabilization may help protect you from an injury.

Variations In Joint Flexibility

The normal range of joint flexibility varies between different people and over time. Some people are born more flexible than others, while others may have consciously worked at expanding their range of motion by participating in activities such as yoga or stretching exercises. In general, women have more joint mobility than men, and children are also quite flexible, though flexibility decreases with age.

Joint Laxity

Joint laxity is a connective tissue problem characterized by excessive flexibility of joints. This is also described as joint hypermobility or joint hypermobility syndrome, and it usually affects many joints throughout the body and may be due to abnormal connective tissue of genetic cause.

Marfan syndrome, Stickler syndrome, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are some of the most recognized conditions associated with joint laxity. Each of these medical conditions is also associated with other health issues. Marfan syndrome can be associated with aortic root dilation (expansion of a major blood vessel). Stickler syndrome increases the risk of osteoarthritis and altered skeletal development. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome commonly causes skeletal deformities and easy bruising.

While not typically associated with a medical condition, some people describe themselves as "double jointed," which means that they can bend certain joints in the backward direction without feeling pain. This is not truly the result of duplicate joints, but it is usually due to hypermobility, which allows joints to bend in the backward direction.

Joint Instability

Joint instability describes a situation in which one or more of the structures that normally stabilizes a joint—cartilage, ligaments, or tendons—is either damaged or has not developed properly. In this situation, the bones of the joint are prone to abnormal movements under load, which over time can accelerate joint degeneration.

Osteoarthritis and Joint Flexibility

Joint instability is fairly common in osteoarthritis, due to the breakdown of the structures in the joints. While less common than joint instability, joint laxity can also accompany osteoarthritis. Joint laxity may increase the risk of osteoarthritis in certain joints (i.e. in the hand), and joint instability may result from osteoarthritis. The joint space narrowing and misalignment that develop as a result of osteoarthritis can contribute to ligament laxity and joint instability. Sometimes, joint instability begins with an injury to the ligaments.

Joint laxity and instability can predispose to joint dislocation from an injury, while joint dislocation can contribute to joint laxity and instability if the structures do not heal properly.

If you have joint instability or joint laxity, you may notice that some of your joints are more flexible or you might not experience any symptoms at all.

Your physical examination, as well as imaging tests such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can help confirm a diagnosis of joint laxity.

Treatment of Increased Joint Flexibility In Osteoarthritis

If you have joint laxity or instability, you may be advised to avoid high impact activity or resistance training. In these cases, low-resistance training is used to help stabilize the joint. Bracing and supporting your unstable joint with a brace may be beneficial as well.

Physical therapy, bracing, ice, elevation, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often needed as you recover from an injured joint. Optimal healing can help prevent instability and laxity from developing after an injury.

A Word From Verywell

If you have osteoarthritis, pain and stiffness are the most prominent symptoms you can expect. However, increased joint mobility can also be problematic. Because it doesn't usually cause symptoms, you should maintain moderate physical exercise to keep your muscles strong and improve the stability of your joints. If you experience any injury, be sure to get enough rest and rehabilitation so that your joint will heal optimally.

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