She is feeling well and cheerful. Three days later things are very different. Exhausted and in pain she has taken to her bed and dosed up with heavy-duty painkillers. Sadly, she surmises, lifting her 20-month-old nephew was a bad idea.
Isobel, 36, suffers from joint Hypermobility Syndrome (HMS) and these flare-ups of pain she says “go with the territory”.
HMS, also sometimes known as Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility Type Three, is a genetic disorder of the body’s connective tissue collagen.
In sufferers this essential protein is weaker meaning joints and ligaments are loose and stretchy which allows an unusual range of movement. This can lead to pain, fatigue, dislocations, soft tissue injuries and skin, digestion and cardiovascular system problems.
Despite the fact that as many as three in 10 people may be affected to some degree by hypermobility (although in many cases it affects only a small number of joints and causes no symptoms) the condition is still little known or understood.
She became aware her body was not working as it should as a teenager when she began to suffer back pain. She now knows her delayed walking, bouts of leg pain and a fractured leg at the age of seven were all linked to HMS.
“If it had been picked up sooner it could have saved me from a domino effect. The pains and problems cascade from each other,” she says.
“I was hopeless at all sports. It makes sense now. You have to control this extra range of movement all the time and that is very hard.”
In dance Isobel’s hypermobility was useful and allowed her to achieve difficult positions with ease.
Many dancers are hypermobile including the famous French ballerina Sylvie Guillem.
By the age of 13 most of Isobel’s contemporaries were starting to stiffen up with the onset of puberty but for her the increased flexibility of childhood remained. Although she never expected to make it as a top performer she began to dream of a career in dance.
“I had seen orthopaedic surgeons, neurologists and physiotherapists but everyone just dealt with individual problems. No one saw a pattern. I couldn’t work or have a social life because of the pain and my family found it hard to understand. I was very depressed. I felt I had been written off.”
The turning point was a chronic pain management course where Isobel learnt that pain doesn’t always mean damage. She was encouraged to take up ballet again under very careful supervision.
“Suddenly everything started to make sense. I saw then that I had never known what was normal. I started to accept that I didn’t know my limits and adapt accordingly.”
Gradually Isobel feels she has taken more control and although the pain and fatigue remain knowing their cause makes them easier to deal with. She is having physiotherapy which helps to even out the strain on her muscles and joints and control her movements.
“I don’t know what the future holds but I have worked very hard to rehabilitate my body,” she says. “I realised recently that I am feeling healthy for the first time in my life.”