Hypermobility In Martial Arts - Stop This Immediately.

There's things we must watch out for in the Dojang as far as Hypermobility is concerned. It could well save your fellow practitioners and students some severe joint injuries, the kinds which can render them out of action for good.


The first order or business is to understand what Hypermobility really means. There are four distinct ingredients which can contribute in varying degrees to joint Hypermobility. Three of which are -


  • Resting muscle tone/strength, which can influence the way a joint is being pulled about. This is especially important with respect to the shoulder joint.

  • The shape of your bones, as having shallower more open joints can give rise to less structural stability. Placing more of the onus on soft tissue to keep a joint stable.

  • Proprioception - Simply having an awareness of joint positions without looking. Poor positioning can be then amplified by the first bullet point. Muscles pulling on a joint in an imbalanced way.


The main ingredient which I want to talk about is Collagen Deficiency.


Collagen is what makes your tendons and ligaments strong, robust and stiff. Elastin does the opposite. For most people - genetically - we get the balance between the two pretty good. For some people, their chemical soup is a little out. Ending up with less collagen and thus, relatively too much elastin going on.


Stuff gets a little loosey-goosey.


Guess who is going to have a career in Cirque du Soleil? You also need very shallow hip sockets with that genetic soup, so put them together and voila.



Interestingly, you could do these amazing contortionist shenanigans without joint Hypermobility via collagen deficiency. All you need is shallow joints/favourable skeletal structure and lots of stretching. I guess you could also do the same with extreme collagen deficiency but typical skeletal structure.


Guess who is more likely to get injured though?



How Do I Know If I'm Loosey-Goosey?



A combination of 'The Signs' plus a Beighton Laxity Score.


Beighton Laxity Score


Here's a 9 out of 9 score demo.



There's 9 shapes you gotta throw, with 9 possible points you can score. If one scores 4 or more points, they're generally considered to have higher than normal joint laxity. Each point is effectively a positive.


1 point if while standing and performing a forward bend, you can get both palms flat on the floor while your knees are straight.


1 point each for an elbow that can hyper-extend. You can of course get a subtle bend or an extreme bend here.


1 point for each knee that can hyper-extend. Wether subtle or extreme, it should be taken into account.


1 point for each thumb which can bend back and touch the forearms.


1 point for each little finger that can be bent back beyond 90 degrees.


'The Signs'



I tend to notice little clues alongside a positive Beighton score. Most notably the individuals propensity to stretch a lot. Even midway through training a client. I'll give you an example.




*Performs a set of deadlifts*


*Stops, groans, farts, then drinks some water*


"That was a really solid set Mr Client, I saw how you really peeled those shoulders back to get better lat engagement before the lift, excellent work."


*Starts randomly stretching their shoulder when I'm coaching their ass off*


"Wait. Why are you stretching your shoulder?"


"Oh yeah, I didn't even realise... I guess because yolo! Mega lols."


"Stop doing that."




"No but seriously, knock it off."




Why do people with Hypermobility do this? It's all to do with the body's perception of stability, or rather the lack of it.


When the body perceives instability around a joint, it can do all sorts of clever stuff to substitute and lay down stability. Such as firing up muscle tonicity around the joint. I've spoken a lot about how instability can give rise to a loss of mobility through muscles kicking up in the Secret S&C Group for Martial Artists.


Mind you, a loss of mobility tends to happen with people operating with normal collagen levels. With a collagen deficiency however, the joints are going to stretch.


As a corollary, we feel tighter from these trigger points even though we're super flexible. Which is another sign by the way. Despite being flexible, Hypermobile people always feel a little bit tight.


It's all coming together now hey? Less ligamentous stability leads to the nervous system kicking muscles up a notch, leading to feeling tighter, which leads inexorably towards ---> I want to/feel like stretching.


Don't stretch. It's not worth it.


If the musculature around a given joint is holding on tight, guess where the stretch is really happening? The joints. Stretching over the long term further increases the likelihood of severe joint injuries during even benign movements, but during athletic activity? You'll get to know ruptured ligaments and joint dislocations.


Nobody wants to reduce what little ligamentous stiffness they have down to nothing. Meanwhile there's a substitute for alleviating the tightness. Get on the SMR wheelhouse instead.




Another sign? Yeah, they tend to have a history of joint injuries/dislocations. Which sucks donkey balls.





Omg, I think I'm Hypermobile. What Should I Do?!



I shouldn't need to remind people, this article doesn't serve as a self diagnostic tool. You need to speak to somebody who knows what they're doing. Especially since in its most extreme form, EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) is potentially fatal. The extremes of collagen deficiency begins to affect the vascular system which can drastically reduce life expectancies.


With vascular EDS the life expectancy is around 48. It's not nice.


So if you feel you might be after giving everything a go? Speak to an expert. If you're confirmed? Well. Dig this. (For the mild-moderate ends of the spectrum.)


Good News & Bad News


Bad news? You can't cure it.


The good news is you don't need exotic lavender infusions with some condensed Sasquatch fart elixir. Mixed very precisely and carefully to reach those magical properties.


However, you do need to seriously reconsider some of your (likely) typical practices. One of the hardest pieces of well intentioned advice I have to give to those with Hypermobility, tends to receive a fairly predictable reception. When they hear the words -


"You kinda sorta need to stop stretching."



"Can we still be friends?"



Stop Stretching



It's a kick in the nuts isn't it? Being told to stop doing something you're actually pretty good at without trying is always crappy. Hear me out though because simultaneously, most people want to avoid injury more.


You're just making already loose/unstable joints even more unstable. Even more so with all the trigger points your body will lay down. Trigger points effectively make the muscle stiffer. So when you're tugging yourself all over the shop, the mobility will develop around the path of least resistance.


Oftentimes with Hypermobility, the muscles are not the path of least resistance, the tendons/ligaments are. So with stretching you get even more instability, you develop even more trigger points and tightness. You just feed the perpetual cycle.


Besides, I have to ask you. Why do you stretch other than being good at it and enjoying it? It's not like you need more flexibility.


"Because I need to maintain it!"


At the expense of joint stability, plus the fact you're not going to lose it since you're fundamentally hypermobile. - I would challenge that assertion.



Pick Up Heavy Shit - With A Twist



What promotes joint stability? Resistance training, albeit with a few nuanced technical tweaks I'm about to share with you which I use with my own clients who are confirmed Hypermobile.


The very thing which we know makes bodybuilders typically lose their range of motion over time (Compounded by never stretching because they're too macho for that) is simultaneously a golden nugget for those with joint Hypermobility. Use deliberately shortened ranges of motion.


Not to absolute extremes of course. Just don't ever allow yourself to hang off the joints or go for that full range of motion during your reps. I'm thinking not letting your elbows fully straighten, or overly extending the hips just because you can, or letting the shoulders move about too much.


Just keep things locked down. Maximum range of motion isn't always better anyway. Especially with respect to creating maximum mechanical tension through the working musculature.


You'll never end up all stiff and rigid with a loss of mobility no matter how hard you try. So don't worry about it. What you will do is promote a little more joint stiffness, plus develop superior proprioception and control over your joints via controlled resistance training protocols.


Meaning - Whilst you'll always be fairly lax - you'll be far better equipped to use your seatbelts (muscles) more effectively in keeping joints where they should be during any athletic shenanigans.


Stretching does not have the same effect. On the contrary.



Final Thoughts



There's a reason you tend to find Hypermobile people in the Martial Arts domain. Not to mention similar demand specific activities like Gymnastics, Yoga and Dance. Because they tend to be pretty good at it from the get go.


The same reason we don't tend to find Hypermobile people in Ultra Endurance Events. The repetitive impacting from running combined with joint instability means soft tissue has to work much harder than your typical individual. Guess who always gets tight and angry hips, IT Bands and ankles? Structure can also diminish or amplify this.

It means however, as Martial Arts instructors and students alike, it behooves us to be able to recognise Hypermobility and be able to begin to advise these individuals on better approaches to prevent injury down the line.

The worst thing you can do is always borrow these super flexible people and demonstrate insane flexibility just to woo a class full of students. Effectively encouraging the individual in question to continue to work on their insane flexibility prowess.


It's profoundly myopic and silly.


All makes sense? Sweet, it's a wrap.



I really am.

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