Those who are looking for hypermobility exercises often do not know what to do or how to start safely.
In the hypermobile population there are important factors to consider prior to exercising, that when followed, will consistently lead to improved results.
While it can be intimidating to start, exercising can lead to:
- Feeling more confident about moving
- Improving the flexibility of stiff parts of the body
- Increasing stamina and muscle strength
- Reducing injury due to more stable joints and better understanding of body movements
The safest hypermobility exercises follow this structure:
Have you ever been called double jointed?
Hypermobility is when a joint can bend beyond the typical range of movement, or commonly known as hyperextension. About 1/10 people are hypermobile. Hypermobility is more common in women and children. It is common among gymnasts, dancers, various athletes, and musicians. Many people have hypermobility, but do not have any symptoms (Non symptomatic hypermobility). Even though you may not have symptoms, being hypermobile still affects how you work out and participate in activities.
For a smaller number of people hypermobility is accompanied by symptoms (symptomatic hypermobility). Symptomatic hypermobility can be due to many factors:
- Inheritable disorders of connective tissue like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Stickler syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta.
- Joint shape, increased ligament laxity, and poor muscle tone not accompanied by a connective tissue disorder.
- Conditions like Down’s syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.
- Injury or repetitive stretching or overtraining (ie gymnasts and dancers).
Common hypermobility symptoms are:
- Joint instability, hyper-extension, chronic sprains/strains, subluxations, and/or dislocations
- Stomach and digestive problems (like reflux and slow stomach emptying)
- Poor proprioception
- Bladder and bowel problems (pelvic floor dysfunction)
- Autonomic dysfunction Including postural tachycardia syndrome (e.g. dizziness, fainting, light-headedness, difficulty regulating temperature especially upon standing)
- Easy bruising
- Poor wound healing
- Long term chronic pain
- Stretchy or soft skin
- Chronic fatigue
According to the Hypermobility Syndromes Association, hypermobility symptoms are variable and can change over time. It is common for a person to become symptomatic after something changes that tips the hypermobile body from ‘can cope’ to ‘can’t cope’. This can be triggered by many things, including aging, injury, illness, stress, pregnancy, or changes in activity levels, job, or home life.
Managing Symptoms Through Exercise
Although there is no cure for hypermobility, some symptoms can be managed with proper guidance. Here is where the right prescribed hypermobility exercises can help. Please note, if you have symptomatic hypermobility you may want to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise routine to rule out any underlying conditions. Once you are cleared medically it’s time to get going.
The key to success with a hypermobile body is STABILITY!
It is not uncommon for those with hypermobility to frequently have issues with dislocations, strains, sprains, and joint instability.
Anyone starting a strength or exercise program should build a solid foundation first before progressing to higher loads or more difficult exercises. This is especially true for hypermobile bodies. Building stability should be an essential part of any program–rushing into strengthening without creating a stable base often results in setbacks.
Stability is defined as: Your body’s ability to safely and effectively maintain and control various postures as well as resist changes in equilibrium. Basically, stabilizing muscles are the most important muscles for supporting and holding your body upright.
So where do you start? Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter handbook to follow, all people are unique and have different problems and goals.
But as with all exercise programs, it must progress in a logical order:
Step 1: Learn how to exist in neutral
Neutral posture is a position that is reached when your spine is straight, and your pelvis, rib cage, and neck are in alignment.
In neutral posture, your vertebrae are lined up in a specific way that gives your spine the most protection and offers the most stability to your body. Not only does a neutral posture offer your body the most defense against certain types of injuries, but it also requires the least amount of energy to maintain which gives your body more energy for other tasks.
Existing in neutral, prepares your body for optimal movement, allows for proper breathing, decreases muscle tightness, pain, and joint strain.
You can reach neutral through performing stabilizing exercises that isolate the deep stabilizers throughout the trunk and neck.
Hypermobility Exercises to Strengthen Neutral Posture
Step 2: Strengthen supporting muscles
Strengthen the stabilizing muscles that support the larger muscles involved in bigger movements. Stabilizing muscles are the most important muscles for supporting and holding your body upright. When your stabilizers are weak, they are not equipped to handle unpredictable movements or situations, which often result in injury.
Your body utilizes both passive stabilizers (ligaments, joint capsule, discs) and active stabilizers (muscles, nerves, receptors) interdependently to create stability.
Hypermobility Exercises to Strengthen Supporting Muscles
Step 3: Make it functional
Exercising isn’t just about building muscle, but rather building strength that will help you do the things you like to do. This is when exercises begin to look like real life movements. The examples below are for moves you likely do every day, but you can assess your lifestyle and implement functional movements that benefit your interests.
Hypermobility Exercises to Mimic Functional Movements
Functional Move: Mimics bending over to pick something up.
Functional Move: Strengthening hips and stability for walking.
Functional Move: Reaching for something overhead.
Functional Move: Turning and reaching for something in the back seat of your car.
Step 4: Maintain gains
Regular exercise is needed to maintain function, strength gains, and keep your body out of pain. Be sure to have a clear plan and manageable exercise program that you will be able to stick to.
If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated with lack of progress; some things to keep in mind and evaluate for your particular situation:
- The program may not have been specific or appropriate for you
- You strengthened your body without stabilizing first
- You did not do your foundation exercises long enough before strength
- You stopped doing your exercises; exercises are like a prescription and need to be done as prescribed
If you identify with any of these, go back and start at step one of the structure outlined above and you will get back on track.