If you ever described yourself as “double-jointed,” you might be among the über-mobile few who can naturally hyperextend your joints beyond their normal range of motion. Hypermobility such as this is genetic, and more often than not, you grow out of it. However, sometimes you don’t, and while being able to pop your shoulders out of the socket and contort into a bizarre position is a great bar trick, moving your joints past a healthy range of motion puts excess tension on already lax ligaments and loose joint capsules, and may result in chronic joint pain and instability.
Genetics aside, hypermobility also can be self-inflicted, and it is possible to stretch so aggressively that you actually physically damage and loosen your connective tissues. Forced flexibility such as ballistic stretching was once the norm in sports like gymnastics and martial arts, done in order to achieve a superhuman range of motion, but more often than not, it resulted in chronic joint issues.
Find It, Then Fix It
Hypermobility is usually obvious to the naked eye. For instance, when you extend your arm out to the side and it looks “broken,” when you stand up straight and your knees sway back behind the line of your hips, you can pull your thumb down to touch your forearm, or you can bend your pinkie finger back 90 degrees or more. Your flexibility might not be that extreme, however, and might be relegated to only one joint. Here are some tips for training and strengthening your hypermobile areas to help keep you healthy and happy down the line.
It’s a lesson in futility to try to stretch a hypermobile joint, and in fact, you could be exacerbating your condition. As a warm-up, opt for foam rolling and dynamic stretching — but only if you have enough strength to control and truncate the range of motion as needed. Postworkout, try foam rolling, massage or cryotherapy (cold treatment like an ice bath) rather than static stretching.
Preserve and protect.
It’s in your best interest to prevent your other joints from becoming hypermobile. Stretch to the point of tension during a static stretch, and always avoid bouncing or adding extra force, such as another person pushing on your back or forcing your leg to stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Focus on form first.
During activities such as kickboxing and plyometrics, learn to execute a move with proper technique before adding speed to avoid “snapping” your joints at their end ranges, potentially damaging your soft tissues.
Be biomechanically conscious.
A hypermobile joint is less stable, especially when supporting your bodyweight or a barbell. When performing push-ups or planks, for example, practice balancing on a slightly bent elbow first, then progressively work on supporting yourself while avoiding locking out fully into hyperextension. In classes such as Pilates and yoga, focus on controlling and maintaining the poses without collapsing into your joints.
Stabilize with strength training.
Use resistance training to strengthen tendons and ligaments to improve joint stability and enable your muscles to better control your limbs. This will help put a governor on your excessive range of motion and could prevent injuries and joint pain long term.