Benefits of Exercise for Patients with Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS)
In our clinic, we have been seeing more patients with hypermobility spectrum disorders and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS). EDS is defined as an “abnormal synthesis and/or function of collagen, fibrillin, and elastin in the body that typically affects the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems.” In other words, it affects the strength and elasticity of the tissue that holds your joints and underlying structures of the body together. Patients may present with various symptoms, including: joint hypermobility (very flexible joints), multiple site joint pain, joint subluxations/dislocations, chronic pain, and dyspnea. Currently, EDS is classified into a system of thirteen subtypes. Clinical and genetic testing assist with diagnosing and directing care.
A recent meta-analysis was conducted by Archivers of Rehabilitation Research and Clinical Translation, to research the effects of exercise and rehabilitation in patients with EDS within several different studies. Interventions within the studies varied, but typically included a rehabilitation program involving exercises/movements 2-3x/week for 6-8 weeks. Exercises focused on pain management, strengthening, stabilization, proprioception, aquatics, endurance, and relaxation techniques.
Results showed that exercise and rehabilitation may be beneficial in physical and psychological outcomes in people with EDS. More quality research is needed on this topic across the spectrum of the different subtypes of EDS. Most of the research in this specific analysis focused on hypermobile EDS (hEDS), which is thought to be the most common genetic connective tissue disorder.
The Role of Physical Therapy:
The emphasis of physical therapy in treating individuals with EDS of the hypermobility type is placed on improving pain, improving strength, promoting stability, and optimizing physical function. As physical therapists, we want to make sure we get to know our patients, their daily activities, their interests, their abilities, and their perspective on what’s keeping them from their full potential. This is especially true in patients who have been suffering with limitations for a long time like many of our patients with hypermobility issues. From this information, we are able to find ways to promote a healthier and less restricted lifestyle as we attempt to give patients more confidence in movement.
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