When does Hypermobility become a Problem?
Many of us are experiencing a lack of range of motion, tight muscles and stiff, restricted joints, due to our movement deprived, modern lifestyle and the ageing process. Usually, what is then needed is an exercise program focusing on expanding the range of motion. Yoga and specialised Pilates are great ways to help improve mobility in the body, which then reduces the uncomfortable symptoms.
However there are a fair few of us, who suffer similar symptoms, such as muscle aches, tightness, tension and joint pain, but for the opposite reason. Hypermobility and Hypermobility disorders are often hereditary, caused by premature birth and other factors effecting us in the developmental stage or very early in life. The ligaments that help stabilise the joints in the body are too slack, meaning we have great range of motion. During our youth we may therefore gravitate towards activities like dance, gymnastics or even contortionism. We enjoy our unusual movement ability and do not tend to experience it as a problem. As long as we do not experience pain and are in good control of our hypermobile body there is no need to pathologise it.
However as we get older our body may start suffering from this excessive bendyness. The slackness of the ligaments can mean that our joints start experiencing increased wear and tear. Our muscles need to compensate for the lack of stability from the ligaments and start having to working harder, resulting in us experiencing them as tight and achy.
Many of us, who find themselves in this situation then gravitate towards yoga and flexibility focused practices. Yoga naturally suits us, as our range of motion allows us to achieve many of the positions others would find challenging, and we get a sense of relief from stretching our tense and tight muscles.
Unfortunately this kind of practice is very counterproductive. While we may get short term relief from stretching our muscles, we only make matters worse in the longer term, by over-stressing our mobile joints and working on increasing our problematic range of motion further.
Matters can become even more complicated when neural symptoms start to emerge. In the hypermobile body nerves are prone to irritation. Once a nerve is irritated or painful, practising big stretches and movements will aggravate the nerves further.
What we need to do is address the reason for the unpleasant symptoms. When we have aches and pains and muscle tightness, due to what we could call HYPO-mobility the solution is fairly straight forward. We want to gain mobility and the process of this will also instantly give us relief from the symptoms. When we are suffering due to HYPER-mobility we need to practice patience and perseverance, as the process of addressing the underlying reason may not provide that instant relief. However with a little bit of time we will find that an approach that may feel frustrating in the short term has amazing results in the longer term and can give us back a real sense of freedom.
How can Pilates Help?
First of all, if you are seeking help with your hypermobility related symptoms it is strongly advised that you consider 1-1 Pilates with a skilled practitioner, rather than joining a group class. Group classes may be a great way to support your private sessions further down the line. Initially it is important that you have the practitioners undivided attention as he or she doesn’t just give you the appropriate activities to do, but more importantly, guides you through how to do them.
Pilates is all about recognising your individual needs, and learning how to move healthily and efficiently. Some people believe it is all about core stability, however core stability is only one element of the bigger picture of balanced movement mechanics. The goal is to learn how to move with just as much tension or effort as is necessary. Stability also means balanced mobility. All of this is key for the Hypermobile.
As mentioned earlier, you want to address the source of the symptoms. Joint pain is a result of excessive wear and tear. This means with specialised Pilates we make sure you move in a more balanced way, that does not load individual joints to a degree that harms them.
The muscle aches and tension you feel are a result of the muscles having to work much harder, trying to stabilise the hypermobile body. Stretching the muscles would make matters worse, yet we want to relief the discomfort and allow the muscles to relax somewhat, so that they can start doing their job of stabilising you and providing you with more efficient strength. Some gentle manual therapy and smaller mobilisation movements go along way in calming down the muscular tension. Then we can focus on the actual work we need to do, of promoting muscular stabilisation of your joints. We start working on stabilising movements in a smaller range of motion. The hypermobile body tends to find it easy and somewhat satisfying to go into end range positions and large ranges of motion, because it does not require any muscular effort or stabilisation. We literally end up hanging off our bones and into our joints. Therefore practising a particular movement in a smaller range of motion can be both frustrating and challenging for the Hypermobile. It requires effort and control to coordinate the movement. This is exactly what we need to start teaching our body to do with as little effort as possible.
Another issue is that many of our neurological sensors for our spacial awareness are in the tissue around the joints. With the joints being slack it can be very difficult for us to balance our body and to coordinate our movements. Pilates is great at improving coordination and spacial awareness. It can offer additional help with this, while we are working on improving joint stability itself.
It is a fine line between overworking the already overstretched and overly tense muscles and encouraging them to provide the right amount of joint stability. Quality Pilates is taught with the idea that we want to use just as much muscular effort as we need, to perform the relevant movement in a stable way. The less effort we have to put into it without loosing movement quality, the better. This principle of movement efficiently is particularly important to the hypermobile person, who needs to get comfortable and efficient muscle function back.
As Pilates practitioners we love your individual, amazing range of motion and the last thing we want is to stop you from accessing the natural mobility you have got. Our goal is not only to reduce your symptoms of pain and tension. We also want to help you to be able to enjoy the big range of motion you have safely again. So while we may spend a fair bit of time narrowing your range of motion, to teach your body how to stabilise and control a movement efficiently and with balanced distribution of force through the joints, our goal is to eventually expand your movements back to the big ranges you are capable of. We want you to explore them however with the same stability and control you have learned in smaller ranges as this will keep your body save and comfortable.
Imagine how it would be, if you could enjoy your flexibility and mobility without aches, tension and injury again. Then is the time to return to yoga, dance or gymnastics. Pilates for the Hypermobile is a means to an end. We want to enable you to get back to the activities you love.
If you struggle with hypermobility-related symptoms and you would like some help contact Kristin on firstname.lastname@example.org .