Too flexible: now what?!

I love squeezing in some workouts into my week. I typically workout 3 – 5 times a week. And not for just any odd reason. If I don’t workout, I instantly develop backaches and for the longest time I didn’t know why. The typical explanation? Stress build up in my muscles. But last year I found out that there is a little more too it.

The answer? I have hypermobility in some, but not all of my body. I am naturally quite bendy, but when I was younger that was absolutely not the case. I was always quite stiff, could not do splits for the life of me, and it wasn’t until I properly learnt to stretch and changed dance teachers that I found out that I am in fact, flexible. Apparently this hypermobility is a thing I must have had my entire life, but until my early to mid 20s, I was none the wiser.

The first signs of it showed up when I had just graduated college and worked my first real job. My shoulders, shoulder blade area and neck started to hurt. A typical place for stress build up, so I found myself going to a physiotherapist a few times. I also went to several other therapist over the years and time after time, their methods would work on me for about a week or two and then I would be right back at square one. I mostly experienced pain, tiredness and extremely tense and tight muscles.

Enter last year. Due to some unfortunate events, my back had started to hurt more than usual and I found myself being referred to a new physiotherapist. By now, the pain and tightness no longer limited itself to my shoulders, but it had ‘spread’ to my lower back and hips as well. I was given exercises to loosen things up again and once they had, the verdict came in: hypermobility.

At first, I couldn’t believe what she said. Yes, I’m flexible, but it’s nothing extraordinary, especially compared to most dancers. It was then explained that I only have hypermobility in part of my body: my back, hip and shoulders. The more you move to the extremities of my body, the less flexible I become. My Achilles’ heel and wrist for instance always caused me sprained wrists and ankles when I was a kid because the muscles were so tight.

So what is hypermobility? It pretty much means that part of your body, joints mostly, range further in mobility than what is good for your body. The way it works is that you have muscles that keep your bones in place so that when you move, your bones won’t pop out of their sockets. But in my case, those muscles are too flexible to keep them in check. What happens is that my shoulder, hip joints and especially my lower back can perform movements they should not be able to do. Because of that, the muscles in those areas tighten up to make sure I can still stand up straight and sit like a normal person. The result: shoulder/back/ hip pains due to muscle tension.

I had already experienced that a good work out can work miracles in alleviating the tension. One reason why I do strength training is to strengthen those parts of my body, because when those muscles are stronger, they will be better able to control my joints and keep things in check. I try to focus my workouts on my upper and lower back mostly as that is really where most of the tension builds up. When I do that, and keep things moving, I experience fewer aches and pains and have almost no need for regular visits to therapists and doctors.

However, I need to take care I don’t go overboard. Since I’m flexible and one type of exercise that works miracles is yoga, I can very easily make myself too flexible. There are also exercises I cannot do, push ups for example, as after a while my shoulders simply give out and I sink through my arm like they’ve become jell-o. So I try to balance things out: some yoga to loosen things up, in exchange for strength training to make my muscles stronger. It’s a combination that works for me and as long as I keep doing it, I feel fine. When I slack up, I immediately feel it all over my body and I have spent quite a few days these past years lying on the couch for a full day because my back hurts.

My hypermobility does not mean the end of the world and working out, which I really do like any way, has been a way to cope with it. By keeping myself active I build up and loosen up muscle at the same time, which is exactly what my body needs. I have found a routine that works for me and that I enjoy doing. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it up.

Why do you workout?

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