Take a look at those pictures in the picture below! Does that look like you? If yes, then you may be hyper mobile, but what does that mean? This article looks to explore what it means and what you can do about it. I’m Vics, an experienced Yoga Instructor and third Year Osteopath Student. I’ve spent years looking into this exact subject as it is close to home. Let’s have a look at hyper-mobility and Yoga therapy;
Shall we define it and explain what it actually is before we move onto applying it to daily life or Yoga/exercise?
Hyper – refers to ‘greater’ than normal – although it’s tough to put a number on normal in us humans as we vary greatly too. Imagine someone standing with their arm reaching out as if they were holding an imaginary tray – you’d expect to see the tray laying flat to their arm. If you notice that the tray doesn’t come into contact with the lower part of the arm and that it hangs lower – this may mean that the elbow joint is ‘hyper’ mobile. The joint has a normal range which you’ll see in the textbooks – although hold that thought before categorising people – we’re all designed slightly differently, and what is and isn’t normal completely depends. On what? Well that’s a great question; function, injury, weight bearing and the list goes on. More about that later.
Mobility refers to how much range of movement our joints have. Every joint is different and allows varying levels of mobility or movement depending on it’s job. The shoulder, a joint that allows us to reach up to the very top of the cupboard and grab the last tin of beans during an apocalypse, and throw a ball like a cricketer, is VERY mobile. The hip which allows us to stay strong whilst carrying a whole human on our backs, or push 100kgs at the gym, is VERY stable and less mobile. You see each joint has a set of jobs and relevant mobility or stability – even both.
What happens at the very end of a range of movement ?
This is where the joint is taken to it’s maximum position away from neutral- the muscles have not limited the movement in this case (we would call that tension), and so the bones that make up the joint which are held together by ligaments start to approximate. The ligaments (holding bone to bone) will be taught here and you may experience sprain – or ‘overstretch’. In a healthy joint – the muscles around the joint will have a certain amount of ‘tension’ in them as a protection from this happening. People who have naturally flexible tissues in the body will reach this point of ‘overstretch’ sooner than their body would prefer. People who overstretch their muscles beyond the normal level may also reach this point.
Two types of hyper-mobility? Well yes I suppose. There’s the kind that you’re born with which usually presents as a spectrum ,and then there’s the acquired type – which could be caused by the overstitching of normal tissue (muscle, ligaments, fascia, tendons)
Also known as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, is a inherited disorder of the connective tissue in the body , more specifically the collagen . Collagen is the tough fibrous substance which make up our supportive network of tissues around the body, an example of which is ligaments – but it’s not limited to ligaments as it’s also found in organs amongst other places. This disorder has lots of not so lovely signs and symptoms, one of which is joint hypermobility and pain, but can also present with problems holding urine and digestive problems. This disorder has an unknown cause and is based on a spectrum.
Over stretching to the point of hyper-mobility
This can happen when we over stretch certain joints, and change the length in the tissues. We can bring our joints close to the end of range of movement (ROM) and the ligaments (supposing bone to bone) can be over stretched. This can be caused by trauma or an accident, or it could be caused over time from over stretching. An example of this is if you try to sit in the Lotus pose for meditation. You pull your lower leg up onto your thigh to get into the pose and you rotate the lower leg (tibia) internally to account for a lack of ROM in the hip. Here you’ve gone passed the safe neutral zone. You’ve by-passed the tension of any muscles , and you’ve gone straight for your ligaments in the knee. This can cause injury to the ligaments inside the knee.
Hyper-mobility in Yoga – a conundrum
If you’ve been nodding to the above, and you know you’re pretty flexible and bendy naturally without having stretched for years, you may be remembering times when joints hurt during a yoga practice? Well all is not lost. Yoga does take you towards your end of range (ROM) but and there’s the big but.. you’re also in complete control of your muscular system. When we practice yoga, the teacher always says listen to your body right? YES. When we get close to end of range and we ‘assess’ the situation like so…
Tension vs Compression
Thanks to Paul Grilley one of the masters of Yoga and Yin, I was introduced to the concept of tension vs compression. Take the Warrior 2 on the RIGHT as an example. The front leg is bent somewhere around 90 degrees at the knee and the back leg is straight. The front hip is also at 90 degrees roughly.
Muscles and tissues stretching – Right Hamstings , Left Quads
Bone to Bone or bone to tissue. Right Anterior (front) hip. Right ankle.
If you feel pain in the ankle or hip in this case with this example, you can push into the right foot, decreasing the angle at the ankle and hip, contracting quads to do so and recruiting ‘protection’ and strength into the pose.
So as you can see you can self modify by asking yourself continuously, is it tension or compression? Is the pain or discomfort? Switch on your protective muscles to pull back away from that end of range, protecting the joint from over stretching and hurting you. If it’s lotus you’re after, please note that the hip needs to rotate externally to allow the lotus to happen and the knees are not designed to stretch much at all.
If you practice yoga and love yoga and have hyper mobility in a few joints, you’ll know that sometimes it can be very painful. It is really important to keep asking yourself tension? or compression? When you feel like going deeper because you’ve been trained to go further to push and get to the end range, you now know that it is not the best thing for you. Switch on those muscles – keep them firing, protecting and holding you back into your safe zone. Your body will thank you later on!
keep searching for tension – and when there’s none – hold back!
Love Victoria Thomas