What It Really Means To Be Double Jointed

Did you ever have that friend growing up that could bend like Silly Putty? Or maybe that was you! Either way, it was impressive to watch. Being double-jointed is one way to describe this extreme flexibility, although it does have a medical name as well. According to Real Simple, doctors and physical therapists tend to use the word "hypermobile" instead of double-jointed. Both are used to describe people whose joints bend past a normal point of limitation. About five percent of the population is considered to be double-jointed, per Verywell Health. And while they may have an advantage in yoga studios or in playground popularity, it's important to know of the risks. Here is what it really means to be double-jointed.

First off, the name might be a little misleading. Double-jointed people do not have twice the number of joints or twice the normal range of motion, explains Verywell Health. While it is possible to increase your joint mobility through stretching and exercise, people who are double-jointed are born with this condition and do not need to train to stretch their tissues. Real Simple also notes that in some cases, joints can become hypermobile after an injury or a surgery.

There are risks to being double-jointed

When your hypermobility turns from a fun party trick to painful, or promotes injuries, that is when your condition becomes known as joint hypermobility syndrome, NHS states. David Borenstein, MD, clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University and Master member of the American College of Rheumatology tells Real Simple about how this syndrome can sneak up on those who are double-jointed. "When you ask those people in 10, 20, 30 years later how they're feeling, it's not infrequent that those individuals have joint troubles," Borenstein says. "Either they stretched their tendons so far that now they're aching, or they're experiencing some degeneration in their joints because their cartilage has seen more pressure than it normally would."

So how can double-jointed people protect themselves from a later injury? Dr. Alice Chen, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City tells Real Simple about the importance of strong muscles. "When I have patients who are very flexible, they need to be even stronger than their counterparts with normal joints," she says. "Their muscles need to protect and support their joints when they're moving."

When we think about the kids on the playground growing up showing off their double-jointed tricks, we're still a bit jealous. We just hope they got the memo about what can happen later in the future if they don't protect themselves.