What does it mean to be hypermobile? A gift & a curse wrapped into one

Learn More

Brent Stevenson

I grew up as a long and lanky kid playing every sport that was available to me.  I loved team sports and got deeply into soccer and rugby.  If I knew then, what I know now about my body, I would have stuck to volleyball and swimming.  Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the sports I played, but I routinely felt like I had been hit by a truck afterwards and still have two wonky shoulders to show for it.

I am what you would call hypermobile.  That means that the soft tissues that help hold my skeleton and joints together are relatively looser and more flexible than the average person.  It is a genetic trait that a large number of people have, but most have no concept that the way they are put together is not "normal," or the same way everyone else is put together.  It does go both ways, some people would be deemed hypomobile, implying that their spine and joints are relatively stiffer than the average population.

My estimation of the incidence of pain and injury as they correlate to genetic joint mobility:

Being loose jointed may sound like a positive genetic attribute, but let me assure you it can pose a lot of problems for people.  Gravity can become particularly annoying when you are hypermobile, especially if you have a job that requires you to sit or stand still for any length of time.  We are the only creatures on Earth that are built to stand and walk upright on two feet- that biomechanical feat requires a skeleton that provides both structural stability to vertically stack your body, and functional mobility so that you can move freely.  Hypermobile people are built to move and have to work a lot harder than everyone else to stack everything up and stay still.  We are also the only creatures on Earth that attempt to sit at desks or stand at counters for eight hours at a time.

When the passive support structures that hold you together are relatively loose, you become a lot more reliant on your muscular system, which can be a good and a bad thing.  Your body will be physically capable of many more movements and positions than your hypomobile counterpart, but you will fall into the paradox of choice.  If your body has twenty different postures to choose from, finding the right one can be really hard.  Control of your muscular system requires learned skill to use it and move it well and most hypermobile people never develop enough awareness to control their loosey-goosey bodies.  As a result, they tend develop strong muscle imbalances, postural issues and are susceptible to some very typically aches and pains if they attempt to function at a desk job or do a lot of physical labour.

Marble analogy:

Imagine the following scenarios represent your joint control and stability

#1 Normal/Average person-I give you a marble and a small bowl and ask you to move the marble around the bowl and then try to balance it right in the middle-You will have some room to play with it and then not much trouble keeping it in the middle#2 Hypomobile/Stiff person-I give you the same marble and a shot glass and ask you to move the marble around and then try to balance it right in the middle-You won't have much movement, but it's really easy to keep it centered#3 Hypermobile/Loosey-Goosey person-I give you the same marble and a huge mixing bowl and ask you to move the marble around and then try to balance it right in the middle-You will have lots of fun moving the marble all over the bowl, but you are going to have trouble finding the middle because you have so much room to play with.

Think about this analogy happening at every level of your spine, in your hips, in your knees, throughout your body.  Stiff people are good at standing still, carrying heavy loads and pushing big objects because their bodies give them a genetic mechanical advantage while loose jointed people are good movers but find the seemingly simple task of sitting still really hard.  Some people are built to be accountants while others are meant to be ballerinas.  You run into trouble when the ballerina wants to be an accountant, or the accountant want to become a ballerina.  Then there was me- the 6'5" loose jointed rugby player who's shoulder fell out every time he tackled someone.  I became a physio to figure out how to put my body back together and keep it that way.

Clinically, treating really hypermobile people is the most challenging because it is like trying to solve a 3-dimensional, moving puzzle; each time you see them, they may move a different way and you are forced to chase the problem around while teaching them how to create some control and awareness in their bodies.  As I mentioned, hypermobile people are much more dependent on their muscular system for stability, this makes them much more vulnerable to muscle imbalances creating problems with their alignment.  If they have a fall on one hip, or get whiplash in a car accident, the resulting muscle spasm will likely cause them way more trouble than your average person.  It can also be much harder to detect imbalances because the person may still have a lot of range of movement compared to the average person, but slight differences in muscle pulls can throw their stability system out of whack.

Stiff, hypomobile people generally gain a lot of benefit by just loosening them up and decompressing everything, but hypermobile people have to put in a lot more cognitive effort and practice to learn the skills of using their muscular system well.  It is the hypermobile people with poor body awareness that tend to have the most chronic pain issues and have the hardest time recovering from even minor car accidents.  (Videos: Why low backs hurt & Why necks hurt)

Understanding your body type is a crucial step to proper rehabilitation of an injury and the prevention of any future pain.  Just because you may feel stiff all the time does not mean you are hypomobile, in fact, hypermobile people tend to experience the most feelings of stiffness out of any group.  I recommend seeing a healthcare practitioner that is used to working with people's bodies like a physiotherapist, Pilates instructor, massage therapist or chiropractor and ask for some feedback about your joints, muscles and fascia, then use the exercise progressions my video playlists to develop body awareness and control of your muscular system.  The average, 'normal' people will have the easiest time with them, but either ends of the spectrum may find some of the exercises really challenging.

Your WTH Dashboard will allow you take notes as you learn about your body and the video library will help you figure out what body type you are, why things hurt and what exercises you should work on to keep your body in working order.

Related videos (search on video library page):

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions.

More Recent Stories.

Sign Up For My Monthly Updates

Stay up to date on my new blog posts, videos, books & courses
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.