What Are Ligaments?
Have you been told that you are double-jointed? The ability to move your extremities beyond the typical range of motion is known as ligamentous laxity.
Ligaments are bands of tough tissue that hold your bones together at the joints. They’re flexible enough to move, but firm enough to provide support. Without ligaments in joints such as the knees, for example, you wouldn’t be able to walk or sit. They provide your body’s support and stability. Your ligaments prevent your bones/joints from moving too far apart or twisting too much, which aids in the prevention of joint degeneration or destruction.
Some of your ligaments aren’t connected to bones. Some ligaments hold internal organs in place, for example the womb. Others may connect two or more organs together. For instance, ligaments hold your intestines, liver, and stomach in place as well as male and female reproductive organs.
As children, our joints can hyperextend as the connective tissue is developing. Ligament laxity conditions that seem to be harmless in childhood can cause chronic pain and suffering after years of use if they continue.
Many cases of loose joints diminish as the person ages, while others can reoccur after the age of 40. Generalized joint hypermobility is a disorder that affects all the joints in the body, and it is often seen with chronic fatigue syndrome.
What is ligament laxity?
Most people have naturally strong yet flexible ligaments. Ligamentous laxity or ligament laxity occurs when your ligaments lose the elasticity and are able to overstretch. You might also hear ligamentous laxity referred to as loose joints, joint laxity and in severe cases joint instability.
Ligament laxity can affect joints all over your body, such as your neck, shoulders, ankles, or the joints of the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and knees. It also can affect a number of your organs since your organs are often held in place or “suspended” by ligaments.
Ligament laxity means that you have increased “hyper” mobility in your joints. This is different than healthy flexible joints that allow for a wider range of motion. Healthy joints allow for flexible, strong joints and is beneficial for dancers, gymnasts, and athletes. However, this is not the case of people with ligament laxity. The hypermobility is not a good thing and can cause damage to the joints or other body structures. For example, a tire that has had the lug nuts sufficiently tightened functions well, but if the lug nuts are loose then that tire will wobble and over time will cause damage or need to be completely replaced.
It’s very common that an individual doesn’t even know their joints are hypermobile because they feel stiff and tight, not loose. As the joints excessively move or are unstable the muscles tighten to prevent excess motion which makes you stiff, tired and sore.
Have you been sore or in pain, so you stretch and get relief for a short time then feel stiff, tight and sore again after a short period of time? If so, you may have ligament laxity.
Signs & Symptoms of Ligamentous Laxity
The most obvious severe symptom of ligament laxity disorder is the ability to overextend the joints. Other symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Back pain from prolonged sitting, whether it be over time with sedentary work, or being bedridden due to a medical condition
- Unstable vertebrae that cause sharp, sudden back muscles spasms with a locking feeling when bending
- Muscle spasms associated with disc herniation or prolapse. If the disc is repaired but the laxity is not corrected multiple disc herniations may occur.
- Persistent numbness or tingling sensations.
- Issues with the spinal canal
- Clumsy or deliberate gait
- Persistent chronic pain from overused and overworked joints
- Pain with certain movements when physically active such as with soccer, running, tennis, and other joint-bending sports
- Experiencing snaps, grinding, or clicking sounds when moving joints
- Joint displacement due to loose ligaments
- Frequently swollen knees
- Discomfort or pain when rotating your midsection
- Minor sprains that cause severe pain
- Muscle spasms at joint sources
- Nerve compression when the joint moves out of position and presses onto the nerves
- The development of runner’s knee or chondromalacia patellae (cartilage damage behind the kneecap)
- Mitral valve prolapse condition (heart valve not working properly)
- Joints problems with the movement of the jawbone (excessive anterior mandibular movement disorder)
- A uterine prolapse condition where loose ligaments are unable to support the uterus position
- Patient suffers from arthralgia, frequently sprained ankles, knee effusions, shoulder dislocations, rib pains and back problems.
- Muscle spasms as the joint tissue works to reposition the loose joint
- Referred pain or ghost pain (pain in one joint region with the source being at another joint location)
- Patients having Ligament Laxity in the spinal region can experience disc degeneration and osteoarthritis.
- Individuals who are aged above 40 commonly have recurrent joint problems and tend to suffer from constant chronic pain.
- If there is extreme Ligament Laxity then the patient will have a decreased ability to sense their joint position, which can lead to joint damage.
- The poor limb positions which result from Ligamentous Laxity can contribute to degenerative joint conditions.
- Varicose veins or spider veins.
- Young females usually experience pain even with minor strains.
- The risk for bone dislocation is more in Ligamentous Laxity.
- Flat feet; the arch in their feet will flatten upon standing up, as the loose ligaments are not able to support the arch properly, which in turn leads to pain standing and walking, known as Plantar Fasciitis.
- Frequently individuals with Ligament Laxity are able to bend their elbows, hips or knees beyond the normal range of motion.
- The capability of placing your hands flat on the floor with your knees straight
- The ability to touch your forearm with your thumb bent backwards
Causes of Ligament Laxity
There is a wide range of the severity on ligament laxity and that is due to there being a variety of different causes.
One common cause is nutritional. Nutrition has significantly changed in today’s world a number of nutrients are missing or are deficient in our diets. Other causes can be biomechanical/structural; such as the shape of the bone, the structure of the muscle and its strength and tone, the depth of the joint socket or a person’s proprioception or balance perception.
Trauma is frequently a cause of joint instability or ligament laxity. It may be a one-time severe incident like a motor vehicle accident or a traumatic fall or it could be a repetitive injury from doing the same activity over and over, like swinging a hammer.
Children tend to be more hypermobile than adults. It can be hard to tell if a child’s hypermobility is associated with an underlying disorder in some cases. It also affects women differently than men. Women tend to have the more loose hypermobile joints, while men’s bodies tend to stiffen and tighten reducing range of motion as the body tries to guard against the excess motion.
There are some genetic conditions that are associated with loose joints. These include:
- Cleidocranial Dysostosis: This is an inherited bone development disorder.
- Down Syndrome: This is a developmental disability.
- Marfan Syndrome: This is a connective tissue disorder.
- Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome: This is an inherited syndrome which affects the elasticity.
Diagnosis of Ligamentous Laxity
There isn’t a formal standard for defining ligamentous laxity. But the Beighton test is the most widely used system for assessing hypermobility.
A number Orthopedic tests may be used to determine the integrity and mobility of the joints.
However, an in depth consultation with your examination is very important and useful to determining ligament laxity and the severity of the condition.
Ligamentous Laxity Treatment
Treating ligamentous laxity will depend on the extent of the loose joints, as well as the severity of any existing symptoms. The highest priority in treating ligament laxity is improving nutrition to all the ligament. This allows the ligaments to heal which in turn makes ligament firm, yet pliable. In some cases, involving strengthening the muscles is advantageous, however with others muscle stretching and relaxation is more of a priority.
If the laxity is caused by an underlying medical condition, treatment is designed to include additional symptoms. Here are some suggestions if you have been diagnosed with this condition:
- Take Boswellia to control the inflammation created in the joint
- Take a supplement with Manganese, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and sulfur that is designed to strengthen ligaments and joints, Ligaplex I
- Eat a balanced diet to prevent inflammation including proteolytic enzymes found in pineapple and papaya, zinc found in liver and vegetables, and vitamin C with collagen.
- Add organic bone broth to meals when cooking.
- Perform stretches and cycling to help with controlled range of motion
- Perform low resistance exercises to control the movement of loose ligaments while toning muscles (this also helps to delay arthritis)
- Avoid strenuous activities and compressive forces like running, jumping to prevent overextending and dislocating your joints
- Use heat and massage for pain relief (myofascial release therapy), which can promote stretch reflex and blood circulation, and help with mobility issues due to loose ligaments
- Use supportive ligament devices such as braces and padding during physical activity as needed for short durations (over use of supportive devices can be detrimental)
- Ozone and Prolozone therapy to increase oxygen to the ligament and induce the bodies healing response to strengthen ligaments
Surgery is done as a last resort to repair damage or injury caused by loose ligaments. People with conditions linked to Down syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and Marfan syndrome are not surgical candidates.
If you are interested in scheduling your Ligament laxity treatment with Dr. Nathan Eldredge at Alta Mountain Chiropractic, please call us at (801) 523-2582.