By LAURA LEORNARD
Doctor of Chiropractic
“If you suffer with anxiety or have a panic attack you are considerably more likely than chance to also have hypermobile joints. It is also known that joint hypermobility is more common in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, all of which are sensitive to emotional and physical stress.” –Dr. Jessica Eccles, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Approximately 12.5 percent of the population has generalized joint hypermobility. If you have issues with loose joints, locking joints, above average flexibility and can gross out your friends with the way your fingers bend, you are on the hypermobile spectrum. Flexibility can be trained whereas hypermobility comes from genetic collagen differences. I see quite a few hypermobile patients in my practice; in part because they generally have more aches and pains than the average person.
Most are female and many have had multiple doctor visits for a range of mysterious issues. The more bendy your body is, the higher the chance of disabling health issues. Patients with moderate to severe hypermobility often have a range of co-occurring conditions: pain, headaches, fatigue, irritable bowel, stomach problems, chronic infections, allergies, chronic infections, brain fog and anxiety.
I’m personally very passionate about educating patients about hypermobility because they have often been told their issues are stress, depression and anxiety related. Personal observations in my practice have led me to some interesting hypotheses about the effect hypermobility has on overall health. It’s really a question of causality at the end of the day.
My thoughts are as follows … hypermobile joints overstimulate the nervous system via proprioceptors in joints and fascia around our muscles. Proprioceptors send signals to our brain about where we are in space. When there is too much motion in the body, these signals are seen as a constant 911 signal to the nervous system resulting in a low-level fight or flight reaction all day … every day. Once patients understand this mechanism, the fire-alarm phenomena as I like to refer to it, everything starts to make sense … they feel validated and relieved. It’s a physiological stress reaction to structural instability, which uses up the energy we need to digest, think, focus, stay awake, fight off invaders and repair.
Ideally, if you identify these issues in school age children, pain and suffering can be significantly reduced. It is never, however, too late to begin improving your quality of life. Targeting hypermobility with balancing exercises, low-impact cardio core and strength training should begin as soon as possible. Protecting your joints from hyperextending and avoiding impact may be necessary.
If the ankles, knees and hips are very loose, running can cause a lot of pain, cycling and swimming are generally better tolerated. The last piece of the puzzle is foam rolling. Stretching is generally not as useful for bendy bodies. If you stimulate your fascia and muscles with a foam roller, you send signals to your brain about where you are in space.
Exercise and foam rolling turn off the fire alarm and the body can divert energy to necessary functions like digestion, concentration and reasoning. A 504 plan may be needed for school age children to identify their specific needs in the classroom and for modifications to physical education requirements.
From the SchoolToolKit for JHS (Joint Hypermobility Syndrome) www.theschooltookit.org
About Dr. Leonard:
Dr. Leonard’s practice focuses on posture and performance using a combination of soft tissue release, adjustments and exercise recommendations. She also coaches patients on nutrition, self-care and body awareness so they can manage themselves in between visits. Los Alamos Chiropractic Center is in the Mary Deal Building on Trinity Drive.