Managing Hypermobility - Hypermobility Specialist, Aisling Condon, talks us through 5 key recommendations for managing this condition.
Aisling, the name behind The Green Physio, is an experienced Chartered Physiotherapist and a MoveWell Associate, who specialises in hypermobility and connective tissue disorders such as Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. The Green Physio is also part of our MoveWell Associates network. Aisling has hypermobility herself and knows first hand what it is like to manage this condition. It affects people in many different ways and to hugely varying degrees, however these are her 5 key factors that she recommends anyone with the condition to focus on when managing hypermobility:
Understand your condition
One of the best things you can do, regardless of which type or level of hypermobility you have, is to have a good understanding of the condition and why it affects you in the ways that it does. Understanding it can help to give you a sense of control over the condition, which helps with acceptance and reduces the commonly associated anxiety and fear of movement/activity. Whilst there is lots of good information online, it is important to be under the care of a specialist rheumatologist and/or physiotherapist who can give reliable and knowledge-based information, guidance, advice and treatment. Ultimately, we must understand that although it is a condition we have to learn to live with, there are so many ways that we can make it much more tolerable so that you can continue living the life you want to.
Most of us know that strength is hugely important for any hypermobile joint. It improves control, stability, balance and proprioception (our body’s awareness of where that part of our body is), function, movement patterns, power and ultimately confidence in that part of our body. Every individual will have their own areas that they need to work on, therefore it is important to seek advice from a professional to get an individualised, guided strength program that is specific to you. It is often a long and gradual process, and frequently takes longer than those without a connective tissue problem, however perseverance is key… you can do it!
People are often afraid to work on mobility given that the name of the condition denotes that there is already too much mobility. While this is the case in certain joints in the body, due to a laxity (or looseness) in the ligaments that support and stabilse a joint, there can still be joints that are actually hypomobile (stiff). On top of this, muscles can be working extra hard to stabilise and support the joints where the ligaments aren’t doing so, and so those muscles can become tight. Therefore, mobilising both certain joints as well as soft tissues can be a key part of managing pain and symptoms, and creating better quality range of movement. This may include a controlled and guided stretching program, as well as soft-tissue or joint mobilisation using things like a foam roller or massage ball.
Managing flare ups
I talk a lot about physical flare-ups with my clients, and while it is important to understand that this a normal characteristic of the condition, it is also important to remember these are ‘flare-ups’. They are a short period in time and importantly they do not mean we’re going backwards in our progress. A flare-up means in that moment we have taken our tissue past its current tolerance level, and we need to return to our previous baseline. The more tissue tolerance we build, the greater the baseline and over time the less flare-ups. If we remind ourselves that this is not representing anything other than a flare-up, it will keep the mental stress and fear out of the picture, which are emotions that can make them worse. Ultimately, it’s the movement every day that helps keep our tissues healthy, and over time we understand our body more, the signals or warning signs it gives you, and when to stop and scale back.
Connective tissue disorders can be very anxiety-inducing, due to frequent fear of injury or flare ups. Another way that we can learn to understand how this condition affects us better is to understand the triggers for mental and emotional flare-ups too, and what strategies work for us to reduce them. For some of us, taking time out in nature helps, or engaging in arts and crafts, or relaxation and meditation (this can just be sitting quietly and being present in your body, just letting distracting thoughts pass by). For others it’s exercise. Find out what soothes your nervous system, and plan activities as much as possible so that you don’t get overloaded. This can have huge benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing as well as helping things like fatigue. And whilst we are mentioning fatigue, I cannot stress enough, don’t feel guilty about taking time out. It is a necessary part of your ‘treatment plan’ and managing this condition. And often we find that further help is required, such as counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, etc. So don’t be afraid to get a helping hand… there’s a lot for us to manage afterall!