Can you touch your toes?

Often our patients tell us that they are hypermobile, but is this really true? There’s a big difference between being too flexible and being hypermobile, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.

What’s the difference between flexibility and hypermobility?

Hypermobility is a syndrome, which means it is a medical condition. It affects the whole body, that means all joints from head to toe. It can also contribute to joint pains, stomach problems, fainting, palpitations and varicose veins. Patients with hypermobility syndrome often find that they can easily dislocate joints and have other unexplained health problems or symptoms. 

Flexibility usually involves a few areas of the body being more mobile than usual, and often results in patients having a few 'party tricks'. We've seen someone who was able to lick their elbow! Patients who are too flexible usually have a history of dancing, gymnastsThe problem with ics, acrobatics or other sports. The problem with flexibility is that too much can be a bad thing as it can often cause joint problems and pains.

How do I know if I have hypermobility syndrome?

True hypermobility is diagnosed using the Brighton criteria. This is a combination of joint mobility tests, called the Beighton Scale, and a list of symptoms.

Test yourself

The Beighton Scale is a good place to start. Try the following tests and see how many points you get:

  1. Standing up, bend forward and try to touch the floor. Can you put your hands flat on the floor whilst keeping your knees straight? If yes, 1 point. If no, 0 points.
  2. Straighten your arms as much as possible, do your elbows bend backwards? If it only happens on one side, 1 point. If it’s on both sides, 2 points. If neither side, 0 points.
  3. Standing up, straighten your legs as much as possible, do your knees bend backwards? If it only happens on one side, 1 point. If it’s on both sides, 2 points. If neither side, 0 points.
  4. Can you bend your thumb backwards to touch your forearm? If it only happens on one side, 1 point. If it’s on both sides, 2 points. If neither side, 0 points.
  5. Place your hand flat on a table. Can you bend your little finger back over 90 degrees? If it happens on one side, 1 point. If it happens on the other side too, 2 points. If neither side, 0 points.

How many points did you get?

0: You definitely don’t have hypermobility syndrome, however, you might want to make sure you’re not too hypomobile (not enough joint movement)!

1-3: You’re most likely extra flexible. You may have hypermobility syndrome if you also have joint pains, have dislocated a joint more than once, or if you have ever had a hernia or varicose veins.

4 or more: You may have hypermobility syndrome, especially if you have joint pain which have lasted for more than 3 months in more than four different places.

What should I do about it?

Testing yourself at home is never as reliable as getting a specialist to do it for you, so if you think you might have hypermobility syndrome it’s best to consult a medical practitioner to examine you properly. Doctors will often ask for blood tests to make sure that there isn't anything else going on. If you don't want to talk to your doctor, the True Motion team is able to assess you for the physical signs of hypermobility syndrome.

What if I’m not hypermobile but just too flexible?

When there is extra flexibility, we need to try and balance it out with stability. We need flexibility to allow our muscles to work properly and allow our bodies to move, however to control these movements we also need stability. It’s when our bodies aren’t stable enough that the problems begin!

What is the best treatment plan for flexibility? 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Researchers can’t decide whether exercise or manual therapy, like osteopathy and physiotherapy, work best. The reason for this is that we’re all unique. Everyone is different and every treatment plan needs to take into consideration so many possibilities that no scientific research can give us a definite answer that will work for everybody.

At True Motion we use a combination of manual therapy and functional exercises to work on building stability to support your natural flexibility, so you can make the most of being bendy - flexible patients tend to be fantastic at yoga! - whilst avoiding joint pains which get in the way of daily life.