By Caelum Trott – Physiotherapist
A common misconception is that everyone needs more flexibility. Whilst this is true for many people, there are also a large number of people who are hypermobile (very flexible), who actually need control and stability rather than more mobility. Hypermobility is genetic (you are born with it) and is determined by how stretchy your ligaments are, as well as the length of your muscles and fascia (connective tissue) and the shape of your joints.
There is a very simple test to determine whether you are genetically hypermobile (flexible) or hypomobile (inflexible). It’s called the Beighton Score and is a mark out of 9, with a higher score indicating more mobility. Let’s do it right now:
You get one point for each side in items A–D and one point for E, with a maximum possible score of 9.
If you scored 4 or above, then you are considered to have joint hypermobility. This is not something to be concerned about, but it’s important to be aware of because it will change the style of rehabilitation that is best for you.
If you have joint hypermobility then you should not be spending much time (if any) on stretching, trigger pointing and massage or manipulation. Small amounts of these in the right places may be beneficial, but where you really need to be spending your time is on strength and postural control exercises.
Your flexible body needs support, not more mobility, so too much muscle-release work (stretching, massage, manipulations and adjustments) will likely make you worse.
There is also a link between hypermobility and states like anxiety and chronic pain due increased pressure on the sympathetic chain (which governs our fight or flight response), but that’s a topic for another time.
If you scored below 4, then whilst you still need to do the strength and control work, you will also need to work on your mobility and flexibility.
As a side note, if you’ve ever wondered why some people are naturally better at some sports than others, hypermobility (flexible) and hypomobility (stiffer) play a big role. Hypermobile people are naturally better at swimming, surfing, dancing and gymnastics, whilst hypomobile bodies tend to be better at running, and agility and power sports.
Non-genetic causes of stiffness and inflexibility
Whilst it’s true that a certain amount of your mobility is controlled by your genetics, there are many aspects that can be improved. There are four key structures in the body that influence flexibility:
- Muscles – improved by stretching, foam roller, trigger-pointing, massage, muscle-energy techniques, dry needling
- Fascia – as above
- Nerves – nerve gliders and slider, stretching, dry needling, decompressing the nerve with various physio techniques, anything that helps to relax the nervous system
- Joints – mobilising joints through exercises, physio techniques to improve joint mobility, supplements that support joint health.