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So you’ve noticed you’re bendy?

Three Top Tips for managing hypermobile joints:Woman with hyper mobility syndrome stretching

Being double jointed or more bendy in your joints can be great at parties when you’re younger!  We were all fascinated to see someone who can bend their fingers backwards or get their leg behind their head.  However, just because joints can go into these positions doesn’t mean they should.  As you have got older and a little less fit you may have begun to notice more aches and pains. You may have heard of hypermobility and be wondering if this may be causing you problems.

First of all, being more flexible is a normal variant in the general population. Some people are born quite stiff and have never been able to touch their toes, other have always been able to move their joints more than most and there is a lot of variation in between.

Joint hypermobility does not necessarily cause pain but joint hypermobility with poor control of movement can lead to stress and strain which may ultimately cause pain.

Sometimes, a change in circumstances can contribute to joint pain.  You may have become more sedentary at work or stopped exercising as much, started a new form of exercise/activity which your body is not used to or even just been more stressed or concerned about your body.  All of these are known factors in painful problems.  Often, gradually returning to your old level of activity is enough to get rid of any aches and pains you are feeling.  If pain is preventing you returning to activity, consider these three top tips:

1)            Improve control.

We have two systems which help to control the positon of our bones and joints, the passive system and the active system.

Passive structures such as ligaments and other connective tissues contain large amounts of collagen. How tight our passive structures are is largely dictated by the type of collagen we have in our tissues. This is genetically determined and not something we can control. It will not change except possibly to get a little stiffer as we get older.

The active system is the neurological control of our muscles which are controlled by our brain and nervous system.  We can influence this system by improving control and co-ordination.  It is important for individuals with hypermobile joints to have good neuromuscular control of their joints and maintain good joint alignment during daily tasks or sport.

The best way to improve control is practice. You can practice maintaining good joint positions in static postures such as sitting or standing.  Ensure you move with good alignment, such as when squatting or lunging in the gym, lifting weights or doing yoga or Pilates.

If you find it difficult to know what is a good position or how to move with good alignment a physiotherapist can help you with this.

2)            Avoid ‘end of range’ postures.

Don’t spend time in hypermobile positions. If you are in a position your friends can’t get into, eg knees locked back, sitting with legs wound around each other, gripping a pen with the thumb bent awkwardly – stop! Spending time in those positions can elongate and stress the passive supporting structures, such as ligaments, leading to discomfort and allowing that joint to be even more mobile. This means stopping the party tricks too!

3)            Build strength, stamina and general fitness

Once you have good control of your joint positions, building strength and stamina will enable you to move well throughout the day and during any tasks/activities you would like to do. These may be specific exercises suggested by a physiotherapist or more general exercise such as walking, swimming, gym or exercise classes.  The stronger and fitter you are, the better your neuro-muscular system becomes at supporting your hypermobile joints.  Many patients find hydrotherapy beneficial for hypermobility and CHP is fortunate to have a large hydro pool at our Royal Hospital Chelsea clinic.

Central Health Physiotherapy is delighted to provide the physiotherapy for the world renowned Hypermobility Unit, a specialist centre at The Hospital for St John and St Elizabeth, run by Professor Rodney Grahame.

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