Hypermobility and Contortion
While there are many contortionists that don’t have a natural inclination to flexibility, those with hypermobility manage to reach the very extremes of the human body. If you’re naturally flexible you might find yourself the envy of other budding contortionists.
What is hypermobility
Hypermobility is the term used to describe the ability to move joints beyond what would be considered their normal range of movement. For contortionists, having innate flexibility is an advantage. This is because it allows those with higher ranges of flexibility to progress quickly to more advanced tricks.
Joint hypermobility is actually not as rare as you might think. Many people have some form of joint hypermobility. This may occur in specific joints or it may be throughout the whole body.
Hyper mobile joints are most commonly seen in children and adolescents as well as, in females, Asian and Afro-Caribbean races. As with all mobility, the older you get, the lesser the effects of hyper-mobility on your body.
Luckily many people with naturally flexible joints tend to have no medical problems as a result. Those with joint hypermobility should always consult a medical professional about their condition. This is to make sure there are no underlaying disorders that are the reason for high ranges of natural mobility. This is especially the case for those with chronic pain or those suffering from excessive dislocations. These are definitely a course for concern and should not go unchecked.
How to tell if you have hypermobility?
Those with a high natural range of motion tend to discover it early on when they start training for contortion. Most will discover this in their youth and continue to pursue it. Being able to complete advanced contortion poses with little prior training is usually a good indicator of natural flexibility. In a clinical setting there is a grading system called the Beighton Score to asses the degree of hyper-mobility in a patient. This score can indicate the severity of the condition. It should be noted that a high score may not mean that an individual has hyper-mobility syndrome as there are also other factors to consider. Similarly a low score may also accompany other severe issues that would indicate a person has hypermobility syndrome.
What are the conditions that can cause me to be hypermobile?
For a small percentage of people excessive natural mobility may come along with joint and ligament injuries, pain, tiredness and other symptoms. As mentioned previously, hypermobility can also be a sign of a more serious condition genetic condition. Collectively these conditions get called Heritable Disorders of Connective Tissue (HDCT).
The most common of these conditions is Joint Hypermobility syndrome or Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD). These used to be considered as part of the same spectrum as hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS). HDCTs also include other rarer types of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, such as the classical (cEDS) and vascular (vEDS) types, Marfan syndrome, and to differing degrees Osteogenesis Imperfecta and Stickler syndrome.
It is important to realise that each HDCT has its own differing symptoms and complications along with broader set of common symptoms. For instance Marfan syndrome and vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, may have potentially life threatening implications and as a result have very different needs. Classical Ehlers-Danlos syndrome has potentially more severe and differing symptoms from the hypermobile EDS. In the case of Osteogenesis Imperfecta a person is more likely to suffer fractures either spontaneously or after minimal trauma.
What does it mean for my training if I have it?
For those that don’t have natural flexibility their main goal in their contortion training is to extend their range of motion as much as possible. For those that are already naturally flexible it isn’t quite this simple. The focus on their training should be around stability and strength within their current range of motion. Only when conditioning noticeably improves strength should mobility be progressed. The safest way to do this is with an experienced contortion teacher. Most importantly is that the coach has encountered hypermobility before and know how to help their trainees manage their condition in a safe way.
If you think you may have one of these conditions it’s best to seek medical advice. There are also some great resources online that cover general advice for hypermobility (hypermobile.org) as well as the specific disorders such as Marfan’s syndrome (marfan.org)