I’d never heard of ‘hypermobility’ until around this time last year, when I saw a physiotherapist for my insanely achy feet.
Since I could remember, I’d always been pretty supple and agile, but never really the most flexible out of my friends. I could do funny things like lying on my belly and getting my toes to touch my nose, or twisting my lower arm 360 degrees and bending my elbow. I wasn’t really any different to my friends, aside from the fact that I’d fall over a lot. Nearly every new pair of woollen tights that my Mum would buy me would be spotted with holes, just 24hours of coming out of their cellophane. In fact, one year, I’d fallen over so much, grazing one knee so many times that it went sceptic and starting oozing out all this green stuff! Yuck! I was just clumsy… later to be lovingly renamed as ‘Bambi’, by my university housemates.
I wore glasses for long distance and bruised ridiculously easily, but again, nothing that unusual really to any other teenager, just a little different. I vividly remember though, especially after ballet classes, that my joints would ache a lot, particularly in my knees and hips. But I didn’t really complain, no pain no gain, right?!
Then, about two years ago, the night before Peter and I were headed to Scotland for a wild camping trip with friends, I somehow managed to dislocate my knee cap (which, I have to say was the most painful thing I have ever experienced). I went to a physio and was told I just had ‘those types of knee caps’ which were more prone to dislocating. It was very much just an isolated problem and so he didn’t really examine any other joints. So that was that, I stayed at home whilst the boys went on their adventure, to be honest – I’m not sure I missed out too much as it rained a lot of the time!
So with my funny knee cap in tow, I tried to keep up with the exercises that the physio gave me, but to be honest, life got in the way and I fell back into the routine of sitting in funny positions, forgetting that I’d injured my knee… although, that being said, if anyone gets anywhere near it, I still flinch!
And so, the following year, Peter and I got on the plane to an icy Vienna. As you probably know by now, we love exploring and just have to walk every inch of a city to get a true feeling of it. Vienna isn’t particularly big, nor hilly, so we walked and walked, only resting when it became too bitter to be outside. But what was unusual was that my feet started screaming at me. Now, let me put one thing straight, I wasn’t wearing stillettos either, I was in pretty unflattering trail shoes, with a decent amount of support and cushioning. It got to the point where half way through the day, I would start slowing right down, dosing myself up with painkillers and walking as slowly as I could without actually stopping.
It took about three weeks after we returned from Vienna for my feet to stop aching and so I decided to seek some advice from a physio. I went along to my appointment, where I was fully expecting to be told that I had nothing wrong with me and to be on my bike.. but thankfully, that wasn’t the case! The physio assessed how I walked and a started to examine my feet. It was when she was bending my toes that she told me I had hypermobile tendencies in my joints.
What does Hypermobility mean?
Well, here’s the definition from the Hypermobility Syndromes Association (HMSA):
“Hypermobility is the term used to describe the ability to move joints beyond the normal range of movement. Joint hypermobility is common in the general population. It may be present in just a few joints or it may be widespread. It is most common in childhood and adolescence, in females, and Asian and Afro-Caribbean races. It tends to lessen with age. In many people joint hypermobility is of no medical consequence and commonly does not give rise to symptoms. Hypermobility can even be considered an advantage, for example athletes, gymnasts, dancers and musicians might specifically be selected because of their extra range of movement.”
My physio explained to me that the reason why I experience aching in my joints, more than the average person, is because my muscles are allowing my joints to move beyond their normal range. Using my feet as the example, I lacked muscle strength to keep my toes in the correct position and within the normal range. She advised me that I should refrain from high impact activities such as running and classes such as yoga. For most people, yoga is an excellent exercise, but for someone such as myself, without muscle strength, my joints will extend beyond their normal range, causing aching and the potential for long-term damage. She encouraged strength based activities and resistance sports, such as swimming to increase my muscle strength to help keep my joints in check.
I started to read up about hypermobility, and it became obvious to me that the condition is not well understood or identified by doctors and often takes many years for someone to be diagnosed. I consider myself very lucky as some of the stories of hypermobile people truly are sad – with many having to give up work or playing with their children due to their joints hurting so much that it impacts heavily on the normal activities in life. I’ve learned that my Bambi trait, ease of bruising and the fact that I wear glasses, are also most likely to be attributed to having extra range in my joints. The clumsiness comes through my brain not being able to catch up with where my joints and limbs are – this very interesting blog post explains this point better than I can.
I started to realise that the way I naturally stand, with my feet crossed and my knees hyperextended backwards, wasn’t normal and that I had to try and do something to help my joints out. That’s when Peter and I decided to join The Athlete Centre (TAC), just round the corner from us, to do Strength and Conditioning classes, to try to gently increase the stability in my joints and muscle strength.
We’re now one year into our membership at TAC and I wouldn’t ever look back. I’ve learn’t so much within the year about my body and how to listen to it. When I perform particular strength exercises such as back squats or dead lifts, I have to be extra careful that I’m in the correct position and that I’m not over extending my joints. Since we joined, I’ve noticed a big difference in my core strength and ability to hold my posture for longer. That being said, I have suffered a little set back since sending my back into spasm a couple of months ago. Annoyingly, my pelvis decided to lodge itself in an uneven position and now my body has ‘adapted’ causing me to compensate for the incorrect position and creating a rather sore lower back. Thankfully, I’ve found an amazing physio at The Bosworth Clinic who is looking after me and who has once again, confirmed the importance of making sure my muscles are ‘switched on’ and working.
It took me 25 years to be told that I was hypermobile. I’ve since had it confirmed by the Doctor who tested me via the Beighton Score which tests the following:
- One point if while standing forward bending you can place palms on the ground with legs straight
- One point for each elbow that bends backwards
- One point for each knee that bends backwards
- One point for each thumb that touches the forearm when bent backwards
- One point for each little finger that bends backwards beyond 90 degrees.
Following the above, I had a high score of 9, which confirmed I had hypermobile joints, but further questions found that I didn’t suffer from an associated syndrome, which a small proportion of the population do.
I’m so glad that I’ve found out about hypermobility, as I’m now able to try to reduce the risk of me having a very painful life when I’m older. I’m more aware of looking after my back and driven now to increase my muscle strength to reduce the likelihood of injury.
If you’re interested in finding out more, here are some very useful links:
- Mobility’s Dark Side: Why Being Super Bendy Isn’t All That, Brooke Thomas;
- Joint Hypermobility, NHS;
- Double trouble, The Guardian; and
- Living with Hypermobility Syndrome, Huffington Post.