What Does It Mean To Have Hypermobile Joints?
We have all heard about those “double-jointed” people…those people who seemingly can contort their bodies into positions that are nearly impossible for the average person with the average joint ranges. I remember when I was a kid, I wanted to be “double-jointed” so terribly bad because some of my friends were able to stretch or move into the craziest positions! They must of knew something I didn’t! I would stretch and contort and stretch some more, but never be able to achieve this goal of mine. What my uninformed and child-like mind didn’t realize at the time is that you don’t just choose to be that way, it is innate and part of who you are…not something attained. What also escaped my child thinking is how “double-jointed, or hypermobility of the joints, can actually be dangerous and set the grounds for future complications in sports and everyday life activities. There are varying types of hypermobility, some far more dangerous than others, but in this episode, I am going to focus on how hypermobility affects sports and active people.
What Is Joint Hypermobility?
Joint hypermobility simply means that some or all of a person’s joints have an unusually large range of movement. People with hypermobility are particularly supple and able to move their limbs into positions others find impossible. Most do not have any problems or need treatment, however, hypermobility, when overly active or not addressed, can sometimes cause unpleasant symptoms: joint pain, back pain, dislocated joints, soft tissue injuries (for example,tenosynovitis, or inflammation around a tendon).
What Are The Symptoms And Causes Of Hypermobility?
So many people that I talk to do not even realize that they are hypermobile, rather, they just know that they can move a little further than others. Being hypermobile does not necessarily mean you will have pain or difficulty, but you do have to be educated so that you can keep yourself safe. If you have symptoms, it is likely you have joint hypermobility syndrome.
Joint hypermobility syndrome can cause:
- Joint pains (especially after physical work or exercise when the joint capsule and ligaments are overstretched.)
- Muscle aches and pains (muscles have to work harder with supple joints)
- Back pain and neck pain
- Tendency to bruise easily
- Pain that gets worse through the day and better at night (after you have rested)
Ok, so you have hypermobile joints…so, what are some of the causes? There are four main causes:
- The shape of the ends of your bones. The shape of the ends of your bones determines how far you can move your limbs. If you have a shallow socket, it will allow more movement.
- The structure of your collagen (a type of protein found in some types of tissue, for example, skin and ligaments). If the structure of your collagen is altered, it may not be as strong, and the tissues that contain collagen will be fragile. This can lead to weakened or easily stretched ligaments. All joints can be affected, particularly your knees and thumbs.
- Muscle tone. People with joint hypermobility may have a degree of hypotonia (low muscle tone).
- Proprioception. You should be able to sense the position and movement of your joints. For example, even with your eyes shut you should know whether your arm is bent or straight. However, if you have an abnormal sense of joint movement, you may not be able to sense when a joint is overstretched, so you will have a wider range of movement and a larger risk of hurting yourself.
So, How Do You Approach Hypermobility When Being Active Or Playing Sports?
Exercise and strengthening are vital keys to staying healthy with hypermobile joints. Exercise can be used to reduce pain, improve muscle strength and fitness, improve posture, improve proprioception, and correct the movement of individual joints, decrease chance of injury, make you more effective in your sport or everyday life. If you do have hypermobile joints, be careful and aware of not allowing your joints to “snap” into full joint extension and be vigilant about controlling the motion and speed in which your body performs an exercise or activity. Fast, unsafe, uncontrolled motions can set you up for injury faster than you can say “Ouch!”
Pacing yourself is also key when being active! It means not overdoing it or pushing yourself beyond your limits because if you do, it could slow your long-term progress. It means setting a limit on what you can do in a specified amount of time. Wait, isn’t this key in any workout program for any individual. YES!
Self Help Measures If You Already Overdid It
- If you already have an injury from over-stretching, rest the joint and elevate it. Apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area.
- Applying heat may soothe a sore joint.
- A splint or joint sleeve can provide support and relief for injured elbows, knees, and ankles.
- Avoid aerobics and sports that involve high intensity running, jumping, and cutting. Pushing your way through activities can prolong your current injury, set you up for more injuries, or possibly worse. Try swimming or cycling instead.
- Treat your pain and inflammation and treat it naturally.
- Make sure that you are eating clean, whole foods that are anti inflammatory, such as leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, coconut oil, etc.
- Drink plenty of water to flush out your system.
- Try arnica gel and homeopathic arnicavtablets. Arnica is found to reduce swelling due to its natural anti inflammatory properties.
- Take fish oil to decrease inflammation.
- Look into using ginger, turmeric, valerian root, and eucommia. These are excellent for natural pain control, decreasing inflammation, decreasing stress on the body, and increasing overall health in a variety of other ways.
Even if you do not have hypermobile joints, it is important to keep them safe so that you can stay “in the game.” Being active, strengthening, and being aware of your body and it’s limitations will keep you healthy and functional. Get out there in your life and be active!