When Flexibility is a Liability

yogi in Padmasana yoga pose
Photo Credit: portraityogi

Many of us attend yoga classes to stretch and lengthen our muscles,  dreaming of the day our hips may finally allow us to wriggle into a full lotus pose or some other flexi-goal.

But believe it or not, flexibility can sometimes be a liability in yoga class.  This is especially true if you are one the 10-15 percent of people who have joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS), a typically unproblematic condition characterized by joints that move beyond the normal range of motion.

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Someone who is double jointed and can “pop out” their elbows definitely has hypermobility in that joint, but hypermobility doesn’t always look like a party trick. Even if you don’t meet all the requirements for joint hypermobility syndrome, you might still have a joint in your body that is more mobile than average. Knees, hips, shoulders, elbows are all common spots for hypermobility, and those with JHS may experience joint pain as a result of this flexibility. For yogis who are constantly pushing the limits of how far their muscles can stretch, it’s very important to know where your joints fall on the mobility spectrum.

For instance, if you straighten your knees and they actually go “beyond straight,” known as hyperextension of the knee, you have more mobility in your knees than most people. So while working to increase flexibility in yoga class may not seem like a bad idea, it may extra important to not overstretch, especially if you’re seeking to increase flexibility in your hamstrings or calves. Excessive stretching without this awareness in forward folds, for instance, could potentially make your knees more susceptible to sprains, pains and dislocation.

You know when teachers tell you keep a “microbend” in your knees and elbows? That tiny bend is ensures you aren’t locking out your joints or hyperextending. And it’s especially important for those of us whose elbows and knees can move beyond the normal range of motion. That little bend in the joints can help you to build strength around those extra stretchy ligaments and prevent injury.

Think you might have joint hypermobility syndrome? Here are some common tests for the syndrome: If you can place the palms of the hands on the floor with the knees fully extended, have hyperextension of the knee or elbow beyond 10 degrees, and/or the ability to touch the thumb to the forearm, you just might have JHS.

If that’s you, don’t fret. Bringing in some simple awareness around those hypermobile joints will help you to stay within a safe range of motion in most poses.

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Do you have hypermobile joints? How do you stay safe and build strength in your practice?

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