Hypermobility and Stretching

Physical Therapy


One of the most common questions I get from hypermobile patients is about stretching. Given their already flexible joints, do they need to stretch? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the individual case and the type of stretching involved.

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As a physical therapist, I often encounter patients who come in with a range of joint issues, and one common condition that stands out is hypermobility. Hypermobility is characterized by joints that move beyond the normal range of motion. This can be both a blessing and a curse, as it can grant flexibility and grace but also lead to pain and injury if not managed properly.

What is Hypermobility?

Hypermobility occurs when the connective tissues in the body, such as ligaments and tendons, are more elastic than usual. This increased elasticity allows for greater joint movement but also means that the joints are less stable and more prone to dislocations, sprains, and other injuries. Hypermobility can be generalized, affecting multiple joints, or localized to just a few joints.

The Challenges of Hypermobility

While some people might view hypermobility as a positive trait, it comes with several challenges:

  1. Joint Pain and Fatigue: Overstretching can lead to joint pain and fatigue due to the constant strain on muscles and ligaments trying to maintain stability.
  2. Increased Injury Risk: The lack of joint stability makes hypermobile individuals more susceptible to injuries such as sprains, dislocations, and soft tissue damage.
  3. Muscle Imbalance: Hypermobility can lead to muscle imbalances, where certain muscles become overworked to compensate for unstable joints, leading to pain and dysfunction.

Hypermobility and Stretching

One of the most common questions I get from hypermobile patients is about stretching. Given their already flexible joints, do they need to stretch? The answer is both yes and no, depending on the individual case and the type of stretching involved.

When to Stretch

  1. Muscle Tightness: Despite their joint flexibility, hypermobile individuals can still experience muscle tightness. Gentle, controlled stretching can help alleviate this tightness without putting undue strain on the joints.
  2. Warm-Up and Cool-Down: Incorporating dynamic stretching into a warm-up routine can prepare the muscles for activity, while static stretching during cool-down can aid in muscle recovery and relaxation.

When to Avoid Stretching

  1. Excessive Stretching: Hypermobile individuals should avoid excessive stretching that pushes their joints beyond a normal range. Those with hypermobility may overstretch because they do not feel a stretch within a normal range, they should not push past this to try to get the stretch,
  2. Unnecessary Stretching: Stretching for the sake of stretching is not beneficial for hypermobile individuals. The focus should be on maintaining strength and stability rather than increasing already excessive flexibility.

Strengthening and Stabilization: The Key to Managing Hypermobility

For hypermobile patients, the emphasis should be on strengthening and joint stabilization exercises rather than stretching. Building muscle strength around the joints provides the necessary support and stability, reducing the risk of injury and pain. Here are some key strategies:

  1. Strength Training: Focus on exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the hypermobile joints.
  2. Proprioception Training: Exercises that improve proprioception (the sense of joint position) help hypermobile individuals maintain better control over their joint movements, and understand where their limits should be.
  3. Functional Training: Incorporate functional exercises that mimic everyday activities to enhance overall stability and movement patterns.

Hypermobility and Stretching Conclusion

Hypermobility is a unique condition that requires a nuanced approach to physical therapy. While stretching has its place, the primary focus should be on strengthening and stabilizing the joints to prevent injury and improve quality of life. As a physical therapist, I aim to provide hypermobile patients with personalized treatment plans that address their specific needs, helping them balance their flexibility with strength and stability.

If you suspect you have hypermobility or are experiencing joint pain and instability, consult with a physical therapist. Together, we can create a tailored program that will keep you moving safely and comfortably.

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