What is hypermobility?

While doing some shoulder rotator exercises, there’s one of them that by chance was in my workout routine I found rather challenging. The exercise I’m talking about is a plank with shoulder tap. While it’s not physically hard, due to hypermobility in elbows it requires more attention and movements with care.

Hypermobility describes a state when your joints can stretch beyond normal. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is extremely flexible and can make tricks like splits right away, mostly it’s just about overstretching joints. According to some studies[1], approximately 10-30% of population are hyperflexible. You can check yourself by using Beighton Score. Hyperextension of elbows is especially common for women; however, results may vary in different parts of the world[2].

Let’s dive a bit deeper in the specifics of this condition. A joint comprises of cartilage on a verge of connection of 2 bones. It’s thicker in the middle and thinning out towards the sides. Extending a joint beyond the natural ability destabilises it during any type of exercises, as the joint would put on pressure on the sides where cartilage is thinner. This increases a risk of sprains, injuries and dislocated joints, especially when exercising. People with hypermobility could likewise experience pain in the joints without exercising, due to increased strain on them.

Exersices

There’s no special treatment for hypermobility, however, what you can do is strengthen the muscles around the joint to make them more stable. You can start with a kneeling position on a mat with your palms on the floor. The inner sides of the elbows turned towards each other (see photos below). If you already feel discomfort there, bend your elbows slightly – some 2-3⁰. If you feel comfortable there you can go ahead and gradually put more weight on your arms by leaning the weight of the upper body. Take it a step further by moving your body in different directions while keeping your elbows in the same stable position. You can assist your elbows to stay in the neutral position by pulling your biceps ant triceps. Likewise, squeeze your fingers to disperse some of the weight on your palms.

Exercise position

For another exercise to strengthen your muscles you will need a weight or a dumbbell. Stand in the upright position with bent arms held along the body. In this position you lift weights almost all the way to your shoulder and then slowly go down to about 90⁰ angle. It’s important to have full control in this movement; if you feel that something’s not working for you, find a smaller weight – even a small water bottle or can would work.

The most important thing is to be vary of your elbows every time you switch a position or do a new exercise. Take your time to place the elbows correctly, contract your biceps and relieve the stress on your elbows. Engage your palms where the exercise allows it. Do it, until it becomes a habit to hold your elbows in the right position. Don’t forget about surrounding muscles in wrists and shoulders – training them will also help you to relieve the pressure from elbows.

Hypermobility in kyudo training

In kyudo the most obvious sign of hypermobility would be when moving from daisan to full kai (draw)[3] your inner side of the elbow starts to turn upwards. Typically, your stability in shooting comes from posture and alignment (read more about it in the green Kyudo Manual about ashibumi/dozukuri pp. 59-62 and sanju-/goju-jumonji pp. 56-57+69). When drawing an arrow (hikiwake), you’re working with your whole body, meaning not only arms, but, likewise, shoulders and back are actively participating in bringing the bow and the string to a full draw position.

Have you noticed any inconsistencies in your shooting? Try to observe how you’re placing your elbow in kai. Turning the elbow upwards destabilises the joint; therefore, the recoil, instead of going through the length of your arm, through the shoulder and the rest of your body (which, by following the shaho-hassetsu should be stable), concentrates on your elbow. As the elbow joint in hyperextended position is not stable, it cannot handle the recoil and, in most cases, moves your arm. If you’re not sure, try to record yourself or ask someone to record you. If it’s not possible for you to fix the elbow in the correct position like you did with the exercise on the floor, try switching to a lighter bow or practice with gomu-yumi. Furthermore, you can make use of different aids, such as elbow compression sleeve.

If you like this post, let me know – and I will write more about exercising and stretching.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6744937/

[2] https://netdoktor.dk/hypermobilitet.htm

[3] https://www.ikyf.org/shahouhassetsu.html (read more in sections 5 and 6 about hikiwake and kai)

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