When someone is hypermobile, there are a few hard and fast rules that they’re usually told to follow. “No running”, “No yoga”, “No stretching”, etc. And when you have hypermobile EDS, there are more rules piled on. “No heavy lifting”, “No high-impact exercises”, “Just use the elliptical or go swimming”. Why do these rules exist? Because they are the safest recommendations. But if you’re here I know you’re not after the same old restrictions that everyone always reminds you of when you want to try a new activity or dig deeper into one you already love. That’s what this series is about.
You can be hypermobile in several ways. It can be benign, it can be Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, it can be hypermobile EDS, etc. This is for anyone who is hypermobile. Why shouldn’t you give up stretching? Won’t it make the hypermobility and joint instability worse? Not necessarily.
When you have instability in your body that your connective tissues can’t handle, it passes the load on to your myofascial system. Myo=muscles. Fascial=fascia. Your muscles are surrounded by fascia, which is another type of connective tissue. Fascia is similar to an information highway for your body’s stability. It communicates across muscle groups and gets involved when there are muscular issues.
If you have tight muscles due to hypermobility or joint instability, then your fascia will also become tight. Self-myofascial release (such as foam rolling or massage) can help loosen fascia but will only help muscle tightness a bit. It is usually used alongside stretching in order to keep muscles loose enough that they don’t become tight due to overuse or instability. By stretching properly, hypermobile people can allow their muscles the right amount of freedom to do their stabilization work properly.
So how should you stretch if you are hypermobile?
First of all, learning your own hypermobile limits is essential. Where do your joints naturally go to (this is not where you can make them go to do party tricks for your friends!)?
Once you learn that, you can passively stretch to that point but no further. You should not be increasing your flexibility or hypermobility. Pushing past those limits will add looseness to your already loose connective tissues. You just want to stretch the muscle so that your body has access to its natural movement limits. If you add this to strength and stability training, then you will allow your body to become stronger in its natural state and it won’t become so tight that your joints start to hurt or have issues from problems you’ve created.
I have tested this theory and honestly it helps. When I avoided stretching, my knees started to hurt because I was doing strength training and my thigh muscles became tight and began pulling on the inside of my knee. When I added some gentle stretching for these muscles, I started to feel better and my knee pain subsided.
You can also do active stretching, PNF stretching, and self-myofascial release (which is not really stretching but it helps).
Rules can be great sometimes, but when you have a chronic issue that affects your body in a certain way, learning how to deal with it on your own or with the advice of a professional is crucial so that you can do what’s best for your body and your overall health.