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Yoga for Hypermobility

Updated: Feb 10

Hypermobility is a condition that some of us are born with. Very obvious cases often show up in childhood or teenage years, but some people are unaware that they are hypermobile until much later in life. It’s a condition where your joints have more movement than normal, and is most obvious in the shoulders, thumbs and knees. But the other joints and spine are also affected.

People who are hypermobile may show any or all of the following signs:

· Your elbows bends backwards when you straighten them fully

· Your knees curve backwards when you straighten fully

· You can bend you thumb nearly back to touch your wrist

· You tend to be one of these people who clicks their knuckles a lot

· You tend to click your neck and back a lot to get relief

· Your shoulder/s dislocate without having had any injury

· You may have very soft, flat feet

· You can do all kind of bendy things your friends can’t: suck your big toe, bring your foot over your head etc etc

(please note, all you anxious people out there: having a couple of these signs does not necessary mean you are hypermobile, so calm down). And it’s not all bad….hypermobile people make great ballet dancers and circus artists because your bodies allow you to do things that most mortal souls cannot every do. Although, you are not best suited to contact sports as your joints are too lax to withstand the hits.

What’s interesting is that hyper mobile people may, in fact be quite stiff in some of their movements: this happens when their muscles get stiff ( not their joints). As a physio, my guess is that the muscles have to work harder to give you hypermobile folk the stability that your joints lack, therefore they get tighter from overuse and give a pseudo-stiffness: you might think you have tight hips, but in fact you have tight hip muscles…..complicated isn’t it? Often hypermobile people get very stiff neck and back muscles, and then have to ‘crack’ themselves to give relief.

What is also notable about hypermobile people is usually a marked lack of core stability. ( not that old hoary chestnut, I hear you say….yes, that one indeed…. ) Core strength is simply the strength in the muscles of the torso and spine, and also the muscles of the hips and shoulder. In an ideal world, our muscles provide stability to our joints, a bit like a back-up team, taking some of the load so that the joints take less weight and stress through them. When muscles are weak, then more forces go through the joints ( check out the physics of force) and they get worn quicker and damaged easier.

So, in a hypermobile person you often have:

· A greater range of motion that normal, leading to excessive strain on joints

· Weak core muscles leading to more stresses on the joints

· Weak local muscles, which have tightened up to protect the joints, leading to muscle stiffness.

Got all that? But if you are starting to feel a bit depressed, don’t be…yoga can help IF IT DONE CORRECTLY FOR YOUR BODY TYPE. Let’s be honest, Pilates helps too….. if you can stand the boredom of it.

Back to Yoga: The good news is, hypermobile people make fabulous yogis…they can get into all kind of poses that ‘normal’ folk like me will never be able to do..and yes, I’m jealous at the ease in which you guys do backbends and wheels, twists or low squats.

However, this is no good unless it is matched by muscular stability i.e. strength throughout the movement range of the joint. IN fact, you’ll do damage to your spine and joints. Typically hypermobile yogis are less likely to be drawn to the single leg standing poses or the arm balance poses, because they are much harder for you folk.

For example if my ‘normal’ shoulder can stretch 180 degrees, then I only need to strengthen it to move 180 degrees. But your hypermobile shoulder may move 220 degrees, so you have 40 extra degrees of movement to strengthen than me…got it? So you guys have a lot of work to do to strengthen so that you can protect those beautiful poses. But that’s for more advanced yogis.

What about someone starting out in yoga, who wants to do it to HELP their joints and improve their stability. Well, you are lucky! I have done a series of 4 starter videos for people who are hypermobile and want to start yoga. Click here.

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