Ligamentous laxity

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Ligamentous laxity
Hypermobile finger
Specialty Orthopaedics

Ligamentous laxity, or ligament laxity, means loose ligaments. Ligamentous laxity is a cause of chronic body pain characterized by loose ligaments. When this condition affects joints in the entire body, it is called generalized joint hypermobility , which occurs in about ten percent of the population, and may be genetic. Loose ligaments can appear in a variety of ways and levels of severity. It also does not always affect the entire body. One could have loose ligaments of the feet, but not of the arms.


Someone with ligamentous laxity, by definition, has loose ligaments. Unlike other, more pervasive diseases, the diagnosis does not require the presence of loose tendons, muscles or blood vessels, hyperlax skin or other connective tissue problems. In heritable connective tissue disorders associated with joint hyper-mobility (such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers–Danlos syndrome types I–III, VII, and XI), the joint laxity usually is apparent before adulthood. However, age of onset and extent of joint laxity are variable in Marfan syndrome, and joint laxity may be confined to the hands alone, as in Ehlers–Danlos syndrome type I. In addition, ligamentous laxity may appear in conjunction with physical co-ordination conditions such as Dyspraxia.


While ligamentous laxity may be genetic and affect an individual from a very early age, it can also be the result of an injury. Injuries, especially those involving the joints, invariably damage ligaments either by stretching them abnormally or even tearing them.

Loose or lax ligaments in turn are not capable of supporting joints as effectively as healthy ones, making the affected individual prone to further injury as well as compensation for the weakness using other parts of the body. Afflicted individuals may improve over time and lose some of their juvenile hyperlaxity as they age. Individuals over age 40 often have recurrent joint problems and almost always have chronic pain. Back patients with ligamentous laxity in the area of the spine may also experience osteoarthritis and disc degeneration.

In the case of extreme laxity, or hypermobility, affected individuals often have a decreased ability to sense joint position, which can contribute to joint damage. The resulting poor limb positions can lead to the acceleration of degenerative joint conditions. Many hypermobility patients have osteoarthritis, disorders involving nerve compression, chondromalacia patellae, excessive anterior mandibular movement, mitral valve prolapse, uterine prolapse and varicose veins.


Arthralgia, or symptoms such as frequent sprained ankles, shoulder dislocations, knee effusions and back problems are common among individuals with ligamentous laxity. Afflicted individuals are also prone to bone dislocation, and those with a sedentary job often report back pain. In addition, people may experience referred pain, that is, pain in an area of the body away from the injured or otherwise affected site.

Individuals with extremely lax, or hypermobile joints, can be identified by their ability to bend their elbows, knees or hips past a position of neutrality. They may also be able to easily touch their hands flat to the floor while bending forward from the waist. The ability to touch the thumb to the forearm is also common.

Referred pain is created by ligamentous laxity around a joint, but is felt at some distance from the injury. (Pain will not only occur at the site of the injury and loose ligaments, but may also be referred to other parts of the body.) These painful points that refer pain elsewhere are called trigger points, and will be dealt with later. Abnormal joint movement also creates many “protective actions” by adjacent tissues. Muscles will contract in spasm in an attempt to pull the joint back to the correct location or stabilize it to protect it from further damage.

When this occurs in the back, orthopedic surgeons will often try to reduce vertebral instability by fusing the vertebrae with bone and/or metal fixation.


Those who have loose ligaments in the legs and feet may appear to have flat feet. While their feet have an arch when not supporting weight, when stood upon, the arch will flatten. This is because the loose ligaments cannot support the arch in the way that they should. This can make walking and standing painful and tiring. Pain will usually occur in the feet and lower legs, but can also spread to the back due to abnormal standing and walking habits. Wearing shoes that have good arch support can help minimize the discomfort. The underlying problem, however, is not solved by wearing shoes with arch supports, or worsened by wearing shoes without arch support. There is currently no cure for the condition.

In addition, people with ligamentous laxity often have clumsy or deliberate gaits, owing to the body having to overcompensate for the greater amount of energy required to offset the weakened ligaments. The feet may be spread apart at a wide angle, and the knees may flex backwards slightly after each stride.

Those who have this disease may experience sprained ankles more frequently than other people.


In most people, ligaments (which are the tissues that connect bones to each other) are naturally tight in such a way that the joints are restricted to 'normal' ranges of motion. This creates normal joint stability. If muscular control does not compensate for ligamentous laxity, joint instability may result. The trait is almost certainly hereditary, and is usually something the affected person would just be aware of, rather than a serious medical condition. However, if there is widespread laxity of other connective tissue, then this may be a sign of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Ligamentous laxity may also result from injury, such as from a vehicle accident. It can result from whiplash and be overlooked for years by doctors who are not looking for it, despite the chronic pain that accompanies the resultant spinal instability. Ligamentous laxity will show up on an upright magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the only kind of MRI that will show soft tissue damage. It can be seen in standing stress radiographs in flexion, extension, and neutral views as well, [1] and also digital motion X-ray, or DMX.

An advantage to having lax ligaments and joints is the ability to withstand pain from hyperextension; however, this is also a disadvantage as a lack of perceived pain can prevent a person from removing the ligament from insult, leading to ligament damage. People with hypermobile joints (or "double-jointed" people), almost by definition, have lax ligaments.

Related Research Articles

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Ehlers–Danlos syndromes Group of genetic connective tissues disorders

Ehlers–Danlos syndromes are a group of rare genetic connective-tissue disorders. Symptoms may include loose joints, joint pain, stretchy velvety skin, and abnormal scar formation. These can be noticed at birth or in early childhood. Complications may include aortic dissection, joint dislocations, scoliosis, chronic pain, or early osteoarthritis.

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Arachnodactyly is a condition in which the fingers and toes are abnormally long and slender, in comparison to the palm of the hand and arch of the foot. Also, the individual's thumbs tend to be pulled inwards towards the palm. It can be present at birth or develop in later life.

Flat feet

Flat feet is a postural deformity in which the arches of the foot collapse, with the entire sole of the foot coming into complete or near-complete contact with the ground.

Joint dislocation Medical injury

A joint dislocation, also called luxation, occurs when there is an abnormal separation in the joint, where two or more bones meet. A partial dislocation is referred to as a subluxation. Dislocations are often caused by sudden trauma on the joint like an impact or fall. A joint dislocation can cause damage to the surrounding ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves. Dislocations can occur in any joint major or minor. The most common joint dislocation is a shoulder dislocation.

A connective tissue disease (collagenosis) is any disease that has the connective tissues of the body as a target of pathology. Connective tissue is any type of biological tissue with an extensive extracellular matrix that supports, binds together, and protects organs. These tissues form a framework, or matrix, for the body, and are composed of two major structural protein molecules: collagen and elastin. There are many different types of collagen protein in each of the body's tissues. Elastin has the capability of stretching and returning to its original length—like a spring or rubber band. Elastin is the major component of ligaments and skin. In patients with connective tissue disease, it is common for collagen and elastin to become injured by inflammation (ICT). Many connective tissue diseases feature abnormal immune system activity with inflammation in tissues as a result of an immune system that is directed against one's own body tissues (autoimmunity).

Achard syndrome

Achard syndrome is a syndrome consisting of arachnodactyly, receding lower jaw, and joint laxity limited to the hands and feet. Hypermobility and subluxations of the joints, increased lateral excursion of the patellas and other findings reflect the increased ligament laxity. It is clinically similar to Marfan syndrome.

Hypermobility (joints) Human condition: joints that stretch further than normal

Hypermobility, also known as double-jointedness, describes joints that stretch farther than normal. For example, some hypermobile people can bend their thumbs backwards to their wrists, bend their knee joints backwards, put their leg behind the head or perform other contortionist "tricks." It can affect one or more joints throughout the body.

The knee examination, in medicine and physiotherapy, is performed as part of a physical examination, or when a patient presents with knee pain or a history that suggests a pathology of the knee joint.

Hypermobility spectrum disorder

Hypermobility spectrum disorder (HSD), related to earlier diagnoses such as hypermobility syndrome (HMS), and joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS) is a heritable connective tissue disorder that affects joints and ligaments. Different forms and sub-types have been distinguished, but it does not include asymptomatic joint hypermobility, sometimes known as double-jointedness.

Superior tibiofibular joint

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Loeys–Dietz syndrome

Loeys–Dietz syndrome (LDS) is an autosomal dominant genetic connective tissue disorder. It has features similar to Marfan syndrome and Ehlers–Danlos syndrome. The disorder is marked by aneurysms in the aorta, often in children, and the aorta may also undergo sudden dissection in the weakened layers of the wall of the aorta. Aneurysms and dissections also can occur in arteries other than the aorta. Because aneurysms in children tend to rupture early, children are at greater risk for dying if the syndrome is not identified. Surgery to repair aortic aneurysms is essential for treatment.

Sack–Barabas syndrome

Sack–Barabas syndrome is an older name for the medical condition Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, vascular type. It affects the body's blood vessels and organs, making them prone to rupture.

MASS syndrome

MASS syndrome is a medical disorder of the connective tissue similar to Marfan syndrome. MASS stands for: Mitral valve prolapse, Aortic root diameter at upper limits of normal for body size, Stretch marks of the skin, and Skeletal conditions similar to Marfan syndrome. It is caused by a mutation in the FBN1 gene, which encodes fibrillin-1. Fibrillin-1 is an extracellular matrix protein that is found in microfibrils; defects in the fibrillin-1 protein cause the malfunctioning of microfibrils, which results in improper stretching of ligaments, blood vessels, and skin.

Pelvic girdle pain is a pregnancy discomfort that causes pain, instability and limitation of mobility and functioning in any of the three pelvic joints. PGP has a long history of recognition, mentioned by Hippocrates and later described in medical literature by Snelling.

The affection appears to consist of relaxation of the pelvic articulations, becoming apparent suddenly after parturition or gradually during pregnancy and permitting a degree of mobility of the pelvic bones which effectively hinders locomotion and gives rise to the most peculiar and alarming sensations.

Marfanoid is a constellation of symptoms resembling those of Marfan syndrome, including long limbs, with an arm span that is at least 1.03 of the height of the individual, and a crowded oral maxilla, sometimes with a high arch in the palate, arachnodactyly, and hyperlaxity.

Genu recurvatum Orthopedic deformity

Genu recurvatum is a deformity in the knee joint, so that the knee bends backwards. In this deformity, excessive extension occurs in the tibiofemoral joint. Genu recurvatum is also called knee hyperextension and back knee. This deformity is more common in women and people with familial ligamentous laxity. Hyperextension of the knee may be mild, moderate or severe.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction generally refers to pain in the sacroiliac joint region that is caused by abnormal motion in the sacroiliac joint, either too much motion or too little motion. It typically results in inflammation of the sacroiliac joint, and can be debilitating.

Craniocervical instability is a medical condition where there is excessive movement of the vertebrae at the atlanto-occipital joint and the atlanto-axial joint, that is, between the skull and the top two vertebrae. This can cause neuronal injury and compression of nearby structures including the spinal cord, brain stem, vertebral artery or vagus nerve, causing a constellation of symptoms. It is frequently co-morbid with atlanto-axial instability, Chiari malformation and tethered cord syndrome.


  1. Khan SN, Erickson G, Sena MJ, Gupta MC (January 2011). "Use of flexion and extension radiographs of the cervical spine to rule out acute instability in patients with negative computed tomography scans". J Orthop Trauma. 25 (1): 51–56. doi:10.1097/BOT.0b013e3181dc54bf. PMID   21085024. S2CID   38013996.