I am double jointed. Does this mean I have more joints that other people?

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The term double-jointed is a misnomer. The name implies that a person has twice the number of joints as normal and thus their joints allow for greater movement outside of the normal range of motion for that joint. What this term actually refers to is that a person has greater mobility or flexibility of their actual joint and can move their joint beyond its normal end range without experiencing pain and discomfort. Hypermobile joints tend to be inherited. It occurs in about 10-25% of the general population.

Most people don’t experience any symptoms and don’t need any intervention, but a small percentage of patients will have hypermobility syndrome where their unstable joints can lead to other conditions. Some may experience frequent sprains or tendinitis of their joints and activity modification and physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen and stabilize their joints. In some rare cases, these joint issues may be related to a more serious underlying medical condition. In my practice, I often see patients who experience subluxations or dislocations especially of their knee cap (patella) or their shoulder joint due to hypermobility. A subluxation is when the bones of a joint partially move out of place and then relocate back in on their own (known as a partial dislocation) versus an actual dislocation where the bones move completely out of the joint and stay out until relocated. These injuries may occur from direct trauma to the joint like during sports or from a fall.

I routinely see another subset of patients in my practice who have abnormal joint anatomy where the ends of their bones in their joint are abnormally shaped. These patients can not only have laxity in their joints but also have anatomy that predisposes them to injury. These patients can experience a subluxation or dislocation event even without trauma such as from a sudden twist or movement of their joint. These patients require a thorough evaluation to determine what the best treatment is for them. It can range from pain medication and physical therapy to surgeries to stabilize the joint and prevent re-injury. Having hypermobile joints is not a problem for most people, but if pain and frequent injuries occur it is important to see an orthopedist who regularly deals with these issues. 

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