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The Hypermobile Musician: The Search for an Effective Intervention

In recent months, I've noticed a growing number of musicians seeking assistance through my 1-1 Recovery Program, specifically those grappling with hypermobility issues.

These types of clients usually have a list of things that are going on, and combined with their personal injury history, can make situations quite complex. This is one of the reasons why I offer complimentary consultations for those interested in working together.

During these consultations, I have a few goals; 1. I want to learn more about their situation, uncovering as many details as I can about their tension, pain, or injury. 2. I want to make sure that I am a great fit for the potential client and they are a great fit for me. For example, modality, situation, personality styles, motivators, goals, and learning styles all play a role in the process. 3. I want to make sure the program is a great fit for them, and that it will change their life (sounds corny, but that is one of my core values of this program).

I love taking the time to get to know someone, pick their brain, and offer a perspective they most likely haven't heard before.

Looking through social media, hypermobility is something that is misrepresented and often misunderstood. I've seen stretching routines, yoga routines, and other activities directed at the hypermobile population. Some information is helpful, while others can cause more problems.

With my education, experience, and the model of human movement, I have developed over the past 7 years (with the great help of many others), I wanted to offer a different perspective that has resulted in multiple success stories with past clients.

As we start this conversation, let's set the foundation so we are on the same page.

What is hypermobility?

Hypermobility refers to the ability to move and extend a joint beyond its usual range of motion. Although this can be genetic, this can also be an adaptation over time as the body searches for ways to create force in an attempt to resist the compressive forces of gravity. Over time, this adaptation manifests by seeking stability through the joints, as opposed to the muscles.

Reciprocal inhibition occurs when muscles on one side of a joint relax to accommodate contraction on the other side of that joint. Depending on the joint(s) involved, various muscles will contract (shorten) or relax (lengthen) as we move through different movements in space.

Take, for instance, the act of elbow flexion or extension — flexion contracts the biceps, and the triceps elongate (relax) while in elbow extension the tricep contracts and the bicep elongate (relax).

Elbow Flexion

Elbow Extension

Individuals with hypermobility often struggle to create concentric muscle activity with particular movements. This has a few implications.

Over time, this can lead to local or global (specific area of the body or entire body) muscle groups developing a yielding strategy, meaning they will absorb force and lengthen, despite the associated range of motion, task, or desired muscle activity.

Muscles that are usually used to create force into the ground to resist gravity also can develop this yielding strategy, negatively affecting someone's ability to create and generate force, which directly influences their gait (walking), running, jumping, standing, etc.

Building upon the idea of generating force, if we are no longer able to create force through the muscles, how will we hold ourselves up against gravity? We can't! So we will need to find another strategy to manage gravity, aka finding stability through the joints.

Considering the implications listed above, understandably, these populations will gravitate toward movements or activities that involve harnessing or hanging onto these extreme joint positions.

Common areas include the elbows and knees, with activities like static stretching and yoga being prevalent choices.

Hyper extended knee

hyper extended elbow

However, as stated above, individuals with hypermobility find it challenging to sense muscle engagement outside their end ranges of motion.

This reliance on end-range stability feels reassuring to them, yet begs a question: are these movement modalities truly beneficial for long-term joint health and overall mobility?

To answer this question, we must delve deeper and look through the lens of biomechanics.

Looking through a holistic lens, any movement modality can prove beneficial given the right context.

Consider someone who, over time, has developed a compressed posture, meaning they have a high level of resting tension due to years of adaptation and stress. In such cases, practices like the Alexander Technique, Body Mapping, or any breathing modality can serve as invaluable tools, as they can teach someone what it feels like to relax and let go of unneeded tension.

Static stretching is another tool, but often misunderstood. In the music world, it is unfortunately branded as a tool that is helpful for everyone, which is a blog topic for another time,

But in this context (context always matters), static stretching actually doesn't elongate or help a muscle lengthen or elongate, rather, it just increases the stretch tolerance of the muscle tissue. This will increase someone's ability to move past their available range of motion (which can be VERY helpful in some cases). In the context of a hypermobile person, however, would not be an effective choice, as moving past their available range of motion is something they already are GREAT at.

Looking specifically at yoga, let's look at a hypermobile person in a downward dog position.

Downward dog

This position requires a TON of shoulder flexion, pronation of the hands and feet, and the ability to lock out both the elbows and the knees. From a biomechanical lens, most of the force we are generating in this position is from the pronation occurring in the hands and the feet, hamstrings, and nutation at the pelvis and sacrum (for you non-biomechanical people, just think areas of the body that are generating internal rotation, which is associated with force production).

Throw in an inability to sense these contact points, or a general lack of genuine shoulder flexion, and the tendency can be to compensate through the body, while also going past the available range of motion. Yogis who are aware of this can train themselves overtime to work within their available ranges of motion.

In this particular case, if you are a trained yogi or have years of experience, knowing your tendencies is half the battle and can elevate the effectiveness of this practice, but recognize, we are still missing an important piece of the puzzle (more on that in the next section...!)

However, if you are hypermobile and want to get into yoga, I highly recommend working with a yogi who has experience with hypermobility in a 1-1 or small group capacity. If you gravitate towards the more accessible and affordable classes, you run the risk of getting a teacher who hasn't gone through this yet, or a group that is too big to get the individual attention that you will need.

If you are just a general musician who wants to learn more about yoga, I highly recommend checking out Yoga for All Musicians. I am not an affiliate, just someone who recognizes and appreciates the vision and mission these wonderful yogis share.

Anyways, switching back to the topics of body and somatic awareness, we established that hypermobile individuals can lack concentric muscle activity in different muscle groups, relying instead on joint extension for stability. So, if these individuals consistently engage in activities promoting end-range motion, are we inadvertently reinforcing a strategy that exacerbates hypermobility over time?

Most likely, yes

While such movements may provide temporary relief, they can inadvertently reinforce hypermobility patterns within the body. Hence, let's shift our focus towards a different approach, one that emphasizes compression-based activities.

For hypermobile individuals requiring more resting muscle tension, strength training (or any compression-based activities) can be an effective, long-term strategy. It's crucial to tailor interventions to individual limitations and in this context, we want activities that promote muscle contraction while enhancing concentric muscle activity.

Over time, this approach can equip hypermobile individuals with valuable sensory input, concentric muscle activity, and somatic awareness essential for managing gravity effectively. It has proved an effective strategy for several hypermobile musicians who have gone through my 1-1 Recovery Program, as well as those outside of the field of music.

However, keep in mind that we just don't want to go grab a random workout routine and start lifting weights. Picking the right strategy is a step in the right direction, but other factors need to be considered, such as someone's movement restrictions, fitness level, programming, proper execution, and lifting tempi.

With that said, a personalized approach that takes into consideration someone's personal movement limitations will be safer, more effective, and offer more long-term benefits, especially if someone is hypermobile and presents with tension, pain, or overuse injuries.

If you are a musician who is hypermobile, or a musician who is looking for help overcoming their tension, pain, or injury and is interested in working together, I'll post my 1-1 Recovery Information and Application below. Simply go to the link if you want to learn more, or if you are ready to take the next step in your health and wellness journey, fill out the application below.

If you have any questions, please let me know!


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