The Best & Worst Activities for Hypermobile Joints

Asian man stretching on exercise equipment
A man is strength training. (Image: Caroline Schiff/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Instead of having muscles that are too tight, people with hypermobility syndrome are often too flexible. They are able to extend their joints and flex their muscles beyond the normal range. Although this increased range of motion can serve as an advantage in activities such as gymnastics, dancing and swimming, hypermobility can cause numerous problems, particularly with joints. The best activities for hypermobile joints help to strengthen your muscles, while the worst activities increase their flexibility.

Hypermobility syndrome is characterized by excessive joint motion and joint instability. Normally, muscles and ligaments help ensure joint stability. When those tissues are too lax, their ability to stabilize joints is compromised. Loose muscles and ligaments allow for more wear and tear on the joints than normal. This can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, the most prevalent form of arthritis.

If you suffer from hypermobility syndrome, engage in activities that strengthen your muscles. Stronger muscles are better equipped to protect the joints they surround. They provide more stability, thus decreasing not only joint wear and tear, but also your risk for joint displacement. Strengthening exercises are those that involve working with resistance, such as weight lifting, medicine balls and tension bands.

In general, you want to avoid stretching hyperflexible muscles any further. Instead, concentrate on isometric or concentric strengthening exercises. In isometric exercise, the joint doesn't actually move, even though the muscles around it are contracting. Imagine pushing as hard as you can against a building, as if trying to move it – the muscles are working, but the joints don’t change position. Isometric exercises keep the joint stable and protected while still allowing the muscles to work properly and gain strength. With concentric exercises, muscles shorten as they contract, the way a biceps muscle behaves during a biceps curl.

The excessive range of motion present in hypermobility syndrome makes joints particularly vulnerable. Therefore, keeping muscles strong throughout their entire range of motion is especially important. Muscles tend to be strongest in their mid-range and weakest at either extreme of motion. That means a joint will be most vulnerable, or least protected, when it is at the end of its range of motion. Maintaining strength at range of motion extremes helps counteract that vulnerability in a joint that has too much range.

Prioritize strengthening the muscles surrounding the most susceptible joints: your shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles. Also focus on strengthening your core muscles in your lower back, abdomen, pelvis and hips, because they protect your spine. By stabilizing your entire body, a strong core also lessens the load on the most susceptible joints, reducing the chance for injury there as well.

Doctors do not recommend sustained muscle stretches for hypermobility syndrome, because muscles and ligaments are already too lax. For the same reason, eccentric exercises should be avoided, although it’s hard to avoid them completely. Eccentric contractions, commonly referred to as "getting the negative," are the opposite of concentric contractions and occur when a muscle contracts while lengthening. Using the biceps curl again as an example, an eccentric contraction occurs when you lower the weight back down to starting position. During that phase, the biceps is getting longer as your arm extends down, even though the muscle is still contracting to control the downward movement. As the name implies, a lengthening contraction does lengthen the muscle, an undesirable action for muscles that are already too flexible.

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