It is no great secret that every person has a different level of physical flexibility. There are people that will likely never do the splits or anything resembling the splits in their life. Generally speaking, those kinds of people are classified as inflexible. There is nothing wrong with being inflexible; some bodies are meant to bend more than others. There are people that are flexible if they work for it a little—that is rather normal. Then there are the people that go beyond the normal spectrum, the contortionists of the world. Those people are classified as hypermobile, or having unusual flexibility where joints can move past their normal range of motion.
There are three things that control the range of motion for a joint: 1) Bone stability, which is how the bone sockets fit together to make the joint; 2) Ligaments and tendons, the tethers that keep the joint in place; and 3) Muscles, which dictate motion of the joint and keep it properly aligned (most of the time).
There is a range of things that can cause someone to be hypermobile. It can be the product of random, occasional circumstances. Dr. Jennifer Hand from the Mayo Clinic says the cause is usually loose ligaments or tendons that make the joint unstable. Ligaments and tendons can become loose from stretching, injury or genetics.
Reading all of this makes it sound like hypermobility is a horrible condition but it is actually rather normal. It is common for someone to have one or two joints that hyperextend, especially in the hands. Hands are full of ligaments and joints, which means having one finger that is particularly bendy is a common occurrence. This is called localized hypermobility and it can apply to any joint in the body.
Generalized hypermobility means that several joints can exceed the normal range of motion. There is no set number of joints that need to be hypermobile to fall under the category of generalized hypermobility and it can be any part of the body. Research has yet to explain why but generalized hypermobility is more common in women than men.
While being absurdly flexible can be a cool party trick, it comes with a set of risks. There is the chance that being hypermobile is the result of a more serious condition. It is generally associated with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome and Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.
Even if you are free of a more serious issue, those party tricks can hurt you. Stressing those ligaments further can make the joint unstable. By showing off your bodily oddity you could be causing damage that may result in joint pain at best and dislocation at worst.
If your hypermobility is causing you pain or you are especially prone to dislocations, then physical therapy might be able to help. There is no cure for hypermobility, but there are ways to manage the symptoms. There are certain exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles around the joint to increase stability.
The human body is weird and can certainly do some incredible things. The extra-flexible have a different skill and while it is fun to show off, just be sure you aren’t hurting your body in the long run.