Joint hypermobility, in addition to back pain, is a complication of scoliosis

Oct 12 2011
Patients with scoliosis can experience back pain, breathing problems and other symptoms. New research suggests these individuals may be prone to another health complication: overly flexible joints.

Up to 3 percent of Americans have scoliosis, totaling about 6 million patients in the U.S., according to the National Scoliosis Foundation (NSF). People with this disorder, which can develop at any time but usually begins between 10 and 15 years of age, have a spine that starts to take on the shape of an "S" or a "C." Both boys and girls may be affected, but females are usually the only ones who have a spine curvature severe enough to require treatment.

Every year, there are more than 600,000 visits to doctors' offices because of scoliosis, the NSF said. About 85 percent of cases are considered idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause for the spinal curvature. In addition to physical symptoms, scoliosis can limit one's activities and hurt self-esteem.

Children with scoliosis may wear back braces to halt the progression of a spinal curve as their bodies grow. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to straighten the spine.

Some patients with scoliosis undergo physical therapy, as well. This approach concerned researchers in Poland, who noted past studies saying that children with idiopathic scoliosis (IS) also have joint hypermobility (JHM). This condition is colloquially referred to as "double-jointedness," in which the joints are more flexible than usual. JHM can lead to back pain, poor posture and joint injuries. However, it has rarely been studied in children with IS.

The research team observed 70 subjects with IS and compared them to healthy controls. Results showed that more than half of participants with IS had JHM, compared to 19 percent of the controls. The study suggests that doctors who treat IS with physical therapy may want to screen for JHM first to help plan appropriate treatment, as published in the journal Scoliosis.