Joint hypermobility is a condition where the ligaments surrounding a joint aren’t as tight as they would normally be, which gives that joint greater movement ability than someone without hypermobility would have. Many people call this condition being “double jointed” or having “loose joints”; clinically we talk about having various degrees of joint laxity.
Joint hypermobility isn’t a black-and-white diagnosis. It actually occurs on a spectrum – everyone has more or less laxity in every joint. Hypermobility is seen more commonly in younger people, since your joints will naturally stiffen as you age. And interestingly, your level of hypermobility can greatly vary between your joints. You may be hypermobile in your elbows and shoulders, and much more stiff in yours wrists and knuckles. You’ll generally be diagnosed as hypermobile when you have extreme ranges of motion in several joints. The most common test for hypermobility is the Beighton Score. You can read more about that test at this link.
There’s a small percentage of the population that stays hypermobile throughout their lives. This can be a positive for some sports and activities, like gymnastics, dance, and martial arts, but for many people, hypermobility can lead to moderate to significant muscle and joint problems: When we look at normal physical structure and function (anatomy and physiology), we see that the role of ligaments are to hold the bones in a joint together in a way that allows smooth, pain-free function. When these ligaments are loose (increased joint laxity), the bones won’t be held together as securely. This can lead to increased wear and tear on the bones and cartilage in the joint. Muscle tension around the joint will also increase as the nervous system tries to create substitute support for the joint.
As such, hypermobility can lead to several annoying or painful symptoms:
- Pain and tension in muscles and joints
- Joints that click or pop
- Joints that dislocate or sublux (come out of correct position) easily
- Tiredness or fatigue, thanks to your muscles working hard
- Increased joint injury risk for things like twisted and sprained ankles, or for joint overuse injuries
The most common complaints that my hypermobile clients have are muscular tension, sometimes leading to muscular aches, referred pain, or headaches (when the joints of the neck are affected). Many people don’t actually realise that hypermobility is the fundamental cause of this, instead thinking that it’s stress, or something they are doing in their daily lives that’s creating these aches and pains.
Now, the important part: What do to about hypermobility
There’s no “cure” for hypermobility (short of having surgery to shorten your ligaments, and you’d be hard pressed to find a surgeon who would do that!). It’s also not something that you should think is “wrong” with you. It’s just how your own body works. There are lots of ways that you can help manage hypermobility symptoms though, if you’re finding it to be unpleasant.
DON’T StretchFor Hypermobility
This might seem counter-intuitive, since tight muscles often feel like they need a good stretch. However, if you’re hypermobile, your joint laxity means you’re already “stretched” longer than your body wants you to be. Since stretching may further decrease your joint stability, it can actually backfire and increase muscular tension.
What to do instead?
Get A Remedial Massage
Remedial or deep tissue massage can decrease muscular tension without increasing muscle and connective tissue length. This tension often occurs in both the small stabilizer muscles and the larger muscles that power movement. It’s important to note that the body is using this tension to create joint stability and protect the joints, so by decreasing tension, you’ll have a small drop in joint stability. A good remedial massage therapist will be able to gauge how much tension to relieve. (Great remedial massage choices in Brisbane are Just Knead It and No More Knots.) This is still the number one way to decrease the feelings of tension though, so don’t skip out on it. Instead, think of it as one half of managing the symptoms.
What’s the other half?
Build Strength In The Muscles Surrounding Hypermobile Joints
Strength training builds muscle tension. This might sound bad (and too much of it can make you feel uncomfortably tight), but with hypermobility, this tension is actually a good thing. Stronger muscles hold a slight contraction at all times, even at rest, which can provide the joint stability that your body is looking for. As such, your nervous system won’t be pushing your body so hard to protect your joints, so you end up feeling less fatigued, feeling less muscular aches and pains, and may see a decrease in joint popping, clicking, or otherwise doing weird things. Plus you get all the other benefits of strength training too!
A strength training program for hypermobility should have a large focus on building activation ability and strength in your stabilizer muscles, since these are what the joint rely on for support and integrity. You can follow a program that address that alone, or that incorporates stabilizer training into a well-rounded fitness program.
Hypermobility is one of the more common complaints that HealthFit Coaching provides sessions for. If you’re in Brisbane and are interested in finding out how exercise physiology can help you manage your hypermobility, get in touch today!