“She sits in all sorts of funny ways and seems very flexible – is that normal or is something wrong?”
This article is inspired by this very question that got us thinking that if one person is wondering it, others are likely to be, too. If you’ve found yourself comparing your child to a rubber band then you’re not alone. For many kids, their connective tissues – that’s their ligaments and tendons – are much more flexible than in adults, leading them to find much comfort in positions like this ‘W’ sitting pose below.
There are many factors to this flexibility. When kids are very young, a contributing factor is that many of their bones are made of a flexible cartilage that is softer than bone, rather than bone itself. Don’t worry about that one – the bones will harden naturally over time! It’s also why children’s bones can bend before they break (known as a buckle fracture), whereas bones in adults just break.
Interesting note: did you know that kids start with 300 bones? Then end with 206 bones as adults as the bones fuse over time.
Next we have the ligaments, which tend to have greater laxity in kids. This means that the joints can extend further, and before you know it, your child may be putting their feet over the back of their head without ever stretching. Technically, this is known as hypermobility, and is defined as having more flexibility in their joints relative to their age.
Many kids tend to stay quite flexible from birth until the age of 10 years or so, and then gradually decline in flexibility as everything matures, our bones harden, and the protein collagen in the tissues becomes less flexible.
Some kids will stay flexible, or hypermobile, their whole lives without any problems. For other kids, their hypermobility is a symptom of a connective tissue disorder like Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
The question of whether it is good or bad really depends on what problems, or benefits, their flexibility is creating. On the bright side of things, children in sports can get fantastic results with a stretching programme targeting their muscles, because their ligaments and connective tissues aren’t adding additional restraints. It also means that children with growing pains can quickly resolve them with the right stretching, warm-up and cool down regimes, working to help eliminate their pain and discomfort. Hypermobility may also help kids excel in sports like gymnastics, athletics, dance, swimming and the like.
On the other hand, hypermobility can also put kids (and anyone) at a greater risk of ankle sprains, joint instability, dislocations and other problems. When the connective tissues at the feet are very flexible, this may contribute to a flatter foot type, which then may strain the muscles and ligaments of the feet and legs, leading to achy legs or even painful overuse injuries.
These risks may then create a negative effect for kids in sports, especially in sports that involve purposeful collisions, quick changes in directions, and any physical contact like rugby, soccer, basketball and the like.
When your child’s flexibility is causing them problems, there are a number of things we can do to help them, regardless of whether their hypermobility is just for a short period in their early life, or it is affecting their sports performance in their later teenage years and looks like it’s going to stick around.
This may be pairing some custom foot orthotics made uniquely for their feet with the right shoes to maximise their stability and comfort at their ankles. It may be using bracing or temporary strapping to provide stability during sports – or helping improve their joint strength and stability with a personalised rehab program that is specific to their current symptoms and goals.
Here at Sole Motion, we believe that children should never be in pain, and should be free to play the sports they want or carry out activities without being held back. This is exactly what our podiatrists work to enable.
To best help your child, we start with a full biomechanical assessment (don’t worry, nothing scary!) to understand exactly what is happening with their joints and the extent of their symptoms and risks. We’ll explain what we see happening and why, and assess them on the Beighton Hypermobility scale, which evaluates their level of hypermobility, and helps guide us in the best steps to take.
We’ll work to not only help prevent pain, discomfort and injuries, but to help your kids excel at their chosen activities and sports.
Book your appointment online by calling 1300-FX-FEET or book online here.