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Is stretching good for hypermobility? A beginner guide

A woman with hyper extended knees

Is stretching good for hypermobility?

This seems like a fairly simple question, which should have a fairly simple answer, but does it?

If you want a subject that will make your head spin, then welcome to an area of life that is just fraught with myths and misinformation. Why can some people stretch with hypermobility and feel great, whilst others hate it or get injured?

Is yoga the devil’s work or is the devil in the details?

The myths surrounding hypermobility, in general, are shocking, and things only get more confusing when we throw stretching into the mix!

In an earlier post, we covered some of the various misconceptions and myths that surround hypermobility, including the not-so-important posture, Facia and the one that has my own personal hatred: that pesky weak core of yours!

Today, I want to address the one that probably gets the most attention other than “core stability” and I am of course talking about hypermobility and stretching.

I asked a little while ago on our various social media pages, whether people with hypermobility were stretching or not, and the reasons behind either choice. There was a good mixture of stretchers and non-stretchers. However, the reasons behind people’s choices were incredibly varied.

For stretching with hypermobility we had some of the following responses;

  • The Physio told me not to.
  • I stretch because I have short muscles.
  • If I don’t stretch, I will get stiff.
  • I don’t stretch, I don’t want to cause damage.
  • I tried yoga once and had a flare-up, so I don’t stretch.
  • I stretch before my strengthening exercises; I don’t want to be injured.

As you can see, that is a pretty big spectrum of reasons behind why people are/aren’t stretching with hypermobility.

People with hypermobility often get confused when it comes to stretching and rightly so!

The sheer amount of misinformation out there is astounding. I think the only possible way forward here, has to be by actually taking a look at what stretching is, more importantly, what it does.

For stretching for hypermobility and EDS

When it comes to hypermobility and stretching, the biggest argument that the community has presented for “Is stretching good for hypermobility”  is that stretching is to lengthen tight/short tissue. Again this would be a good argument if it was true.

A hypermobile wona stretching her hamstrings

We know that stretching doesn’t change the tissue length. Most of the time tissue stiffness is a subjective feeling, pretty much unmeasurable and has more to do with the brain than the actual tissues.

Can stretching help you to “feel” looser? Most definitely.

Can it also backfire and cause more problems? Absolutely!

Most things in life are subjective and that’s because we are simply brains floating in a dark tank pulling in information from the outside of the world, processing it, and then projecting our own subjective view of the world.

There are many variables in how people process the information based on context, emotions or beliefs. If you have a bad history with stretching, then it’s fair to assume years of reinforcing that belief will cause an equally bad time, the next time.

It’s also important to note that “nociception” not to be confused with “pain receptors” that has been well and truly debunked, impair our ability to properly map our bodies.

Nociceptors are high threshold receptors that respond to noxious stimuli, meaning any extremes in pressure, temperature, stretch, inflammation, and vibration, will cloud the brain area representations of the area that nociception comes from.

So, if you have recently subluxated or dislocated your knees, you are going to be stretching a joint that the brain is finding very hard to locate and stabilise, which could easily lead to further injury.

Again, there is a lot going on with stretching, and it’s not just all physical. If stretching helped ease that bad back you had for a long time, then it gets reinforced as a useful thing for your toolbox.

The rest of the arguments for stretching are also a little flawed, especially when it comes to the famous trigger points!  Something that’s never been proven to actually exist and with the main body of evidence is a little sketchy, to say the least. But, that’s another blog in itself!

As far as the other reasons to stretch including, it helps to prevent injury, reduces post-exercise soreness and it’s a good warm-up, the evidence simply shows it’s not true.

Conclusion

So, is stretching good for hypermobility?

Stretching doesn’t do a lot of what we thought, but it does do a few things that we didn’t think it did.

We are not changing the length of tissue when we stretch, we aren’t making joints looser or more unstable, so it really doesn’t matter if you stretch and you are hypermobile.

What matters is that if you do stretch, you make sure you stretch the tissue and not just simply manipulate the joint.

Stretching can provide a good way to create body awareness and is an activity that is rich in sensory information, which is always good for the hypermobile, allowing you better control over joints.

Anecdotally, it is also a very good way to change the subjective feeling of constant tightness.

Those with a bad history with stretching may find that as soon as they stretch the brain may engage protective measures and spasm the muscle in a bid to pull the joint together.

In fact, a lot of times when people understand that they aren’t changing the length of the tissue, this spasm response doesn’t even start. There are other alternatives to stretching such as foam rolling or using massage balls. However, it’s still important to realise that you do not have the physical strength to make the slightest bit of change or deformation to the actual tissue (unless you’re the Hulk), things like foam rolling and trigger point balls only add to creating “descending inhibition” and in doing so increase your tolerance to the external force.

Stretching, foam rolling, or using trigger point balls, it’s always important to understand what we are actually doing. These modalities offer a good way for those who have pain associated movement to condition themselves out of it.

Whether you stretched before you read this or you didn’t, you have the facts above.

You may have hated the idea of stretching or some archaic health professional filled you with misinformation, and that’s why you have avoided stretching or perhaps even exercise. Perhaps you thought you were releasing muscles or blasting fascia, and that’s why you stretch.

Ultimately, you have the truth about stretching in the paragraphs above, and what you choose to do with that information is up to you.

Maybe this blog will encourage someone to try stretching and it eventually leads them to start an actual exercise programme that benefits them.

Maybe someone who thought stretching was doing something it does not, decides to research more and it leads to something great, who knows. When stretching is done right it can feel good, and anything that feels good releases endorphins that kill the pain, and that’s a good thing in my book

In the simplest terms, stretching is touching your brain with movement, there are lots of variables, and it always has been, and always will be, a subjective experience.

I did mention above that stretching is a way to help update those cortical maps if done right, and I have provided a video below to really show you what I mean.

Little Berrie was told she was extremely hypermobile and she should never, ever, stretch!

Whilst stretching was not a huge overall part of her rehab programme, It was something that allowed us to get a quick jump to start to stabilise her joints, through sensory input to update her maps.

Something we would not of been able to do, had we not used some forms of stretching for its sensory benefits.


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Adam Foster
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