I have worked with a few people who can demonstrate some seemingly impressive feats of mobility. Coming from a body which feels bound by muscular constriction, I used to be a little envious of this effortless ability to move in all directions. That was until I realized the truth of what is really happening in a body that is hypermobile.
If you are not hypermobile, this still applies to you as incorrect loading techniques can lead to ligament laxity.
In the person who is hypermobile, their joints find it very easy to move through a full range of movement, and sometimes beyond what is considered ‘normal’. This means they can often hyperextend a joint, they may be prone to twisted ankles (for example) and may have been dubbed ‘double-jointed’ (which of course we all know is a false and misleading statement but I won’t dwell on it).
What has happened in the body that allows the joints too much freedom to move is that the ligaments which are meant to be the seat belt for the joint have become lax. This could be something you were born with, or it can happen through poor loading of the joints.
A hypermobile joint is not supported by it’s ligaments and it does all the moving for the body as opposed to all the movement occurring via muscular stretch and contraction. This means that the muscles stay extremely tight. The muscles are designed to be the stopping force for the joints; the brakes if you like, so that you don’t have to apply undue load to your ligaments. Problems occur when our habitual movement patterns don’t allow the muscles to strengthen, ie you hold them in a tightened position (read sitting) the ligaments are forced to take the strain of ‘braking’ and they become more and more lax.
Hypermobility means that when a stretch is applied to try and effect a tight muscle, no stretch is felt as the bones of the joint can rearrange themselves to bypass the muscles. The geometry of the joint alters, which is what happens in everyday tasks as well.
As an example, let’s take a look at shoulder stability whilst carrying water buckets.
Carrying anything heavy can stress the ligaments of the shoulder joint if we are not shown how to adjust the positioning of our arm.
Carrying water buckets can be a massive strain on the ligaments of the shoulder joint; anything heavy at the end of your arms has the potential to load the ligaments and pull the head of the humerus slightly away from the socket. It is the same if you are carrying a baby on your hip or a bag of shopping. We all tend to load the ligaments, forcing them under too much stress so that over time and repetitive loading they become lax.
The shoulder joint experiences forces that pull it away from its natural place, and although you probably won’t fully sublux/dislocate it in the moment, give it ten years and you will wonder why you can’t get your arm above your head or feel like you have any strength in your arm.
So, how should you carry your water buckets I hear you ask.
Well, there is a way of ensuring that you start loading your muscles rather than your joints.
If you carry buckets and feel as though your arms are getting longer, that is a sure sign that you are stretching your ligaments. So, when you have anything heavy in your arms; whether it is an armful of something, or your hands are loaded, you need to feel like you are lifting the upper arm up into the shoulder joint. This is not a lifting of the shoulders themselves, but more a subtle move of the upper arm towards the joint, as a counter balance to the load. Your shoulders should not get any closer to your ears!
Learning how to maintain the integrity of your joints throughout all the daily moves that you do needs to be a mindful practice for us all; not just those who are already hypermobile. By being aware of where your bones are sitting you can start to load the muscles correctly, prevent any further laxity of your ligaments and maintain your joint health for as long as possible.