When one or more joints bend further than average, it is known as hypermobility of the joints or being “double-jointed.” When hypermobility occurs in the elbows, a person may say they have a double-jointed arm or elbow.
Some people may see the extra flexibility of a double-jointed elbow as beneficial. However, the same flexibility can also lead to symptoms that can negatively affect a person’s life, including an increased risk of injury and pain.
This article reviews what a double-jointed elbow is, possible causes, possible issues, and more.
Hypermobility refers to a joint or joints with extended or extra flexibility. People often refer to it as being double-jointed.
A double-jointed elbow means a person has extra flexibility in their elbow. This means they can bend it further than other people can.
Hypermobility of the joints affects an estimated 1 in 4 people. The majority of people will not experience any issues and may find it helpful if they play sports or participate in gymnastics or dance.
Hypermobility can affect any joint of the body, including the elbows. It is unclear how many people experience a double-jointed elbow specifically.
There are several potential causes of hypermobility.
It tends to run in families. This means that it gets passed down from parents to children.
In some people, hypermobility can lead to issues such as pain. When this occurs, hypermobility falls into a broad spectrum of disorders known collectively as hypermobility spectrum disorder. Some types of hypermobility disorders include:
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- osteogenesis imperfecta
- pseudoxanthoma elasticum
- Marfan syndrome
- Stickler syndrome
- hypermobility spectrum disorder, joint hypermobility syndrome, and hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
Any of these syndromes could cause a person to have double-jointed elbows.
Other possible causes or influencing factors of hypermobility can include:
- sex assigned at birth — people assigned female at birth have a higher chance of developing hypermobility spectrum disorder
- age, as flexibility and supple joints are more common at a younger age
- muscle tone, since weaker or more relaxed muscles can lead to increased flexibility
- certain conditions may increase the risk, such as living with autism, ADHD, or Tourette’s syndrome
Hypermobile elbows can lead to issues for a person. Symptoms and complications can vary greatly between people and change over time.
In some cases, they can be manageable for a majority of the time and flare at times. Possible triggers of worsening symptoms can include:
- stress at home, work, or school
- changes in activity levels
A person may develop the following symptoms due to having a double-jointed elbow:
- pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles around the elbow, as movement or exercise may worsen pain
- clicking joints
- regular sports-related injuries, such as sprains
- proprioception, which is the inability to sense the position of the elbow or other hypermobile joint
- joint dislocations, which are full or partial
People living with hypermobility syndrome disorder may also experience symptoms beyond their affected joints, such as:
In addition, hypermobility syndrome disorder may share a link with several disorders, though the exact connections are not clear. Some possibly linked disorders include:
- autonomic dysfunction, where the nerves that control automatic bodily functions do not work properly
- mast cell activation disorders
If a person experiences pain in their hypermobile elbows or other joints, there are some ways they can help manage their symptoms.
Some management options include:
- eating a balanced diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, and lean proteins
- performing lighter exercises that do not put pressure on the joints
- having physical therapy
- using pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are available as topicals over the counter
- having occupational therapy
- undergoing surgery
Treatments should focus on fixing or treating underlying causes. For example, pain medication may help with the symptom, but a doctor may need to correct a dislocated elbow or stabilize a strained muscle around the elbow.
A double-jointed elbow, or hypermobile elbow, refers to an elbow that is more flexible than the average person’s. It can lead to an increased range of motion, but it can also cause a person to experience symptoms that can include pain and more frequent injuries.
When injuries or symptoms occur, it could indicate a person has a hypermobility spectrum disorder. This can cause symptoms to appear in the affected joints as well as other areas of the body.
Treatment and management often involve a combination of medical therapies, such as physical therapy and pain relief, and lifestyle changes, such as improving the diet and regular, light exercise. A person will also need to treat any underlying injuries, such as a strain or dislocation.