Being hypermobile does not mean that your muscles are flexible. It really means that your joints are hyperlax.
Why do some people have hypermobile joints? It is unclear. There are conditions like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (ED) that might include some joint hypermobility. Many people create their own particular hypermobilities by constantly using a range of motion without muscular support or holding their body in a particular postural position. There is also a class of symptoms that together are labeled Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (JHS).
Physiotherapists can test for JHS it is a relatively simple test. Testing your resultant score will establish if you have hypermobility in one or more joints or Joint Hypermobility Syndrome.
Why bother? Well pain for one but also because of the influence a hyperlax joint/s can have when we move and exercise. Let me explain.
Ligaments support joints they are not like muscle. They do not have elasticity, they cannot respond in resistance to a load. They are like the seat belts in a car and our muscles are like the brakes. With appropriate use of the brakes your seat belt is not required. Think about that for a moment. To rephrase, if your muscles are working properly (correctly aligned) your ligaments are not put under undue stress.
Many of us do put our ligaments under undue stress by relying on them in our postures and daily movements, even when exercising. This inappropriate load applied to the ligaments causes them to stretch out – permanently.
As I mentioned at the outset, people with hypermobile joints often have very very tight muscles. To explain; you can bend forwards and put your hand flat on the floor, however your lumbar spine is overly curved (ie. Lumbar spine joints compensating for your tight hamstrings); or you can maintain a plank pose for 60 seconds but your arms are fully extended, elbows pointing to the left and right (i.e. elbow joints compensating for lazy bicep/tricep control).
Correct alignment is the key. Retraining or maintaining our muscles to protect our joints with correct alignment during movement and/or exercise is vital to the prevention of future injuries or pain.
Hypermobility and exercise noteworthy points:
- Exercise cannot increase the stiffness of a lax ligament.
- Move well first, then move more. Learn how to isolate and control joint movements.
- Concentrate during exercise. Eyes on your body parts (watch your feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands, even fingers)
Just because your are hypermobile or some of your joints are does it mean that you shouldn’t exercise? Of course not. You are just going to have to work a little harder with a little more mindfulness than your average Joe.
It’s your body, respect it and look after it. Give each joint the stability it needs for pain free movement.
Su Bauman, Physiotherapist