I went along to one of the Pilates classes at the uni gym today, to try and improve my appalling level of flexibility. At the start of the class, the instructor asked if I had any injuries she should know about. I mentioned that I have loose ligaments (also known as “hyper-mobility”). She then said “Oh, that’s great for doing gymnastics.” At the end of the class, when I showed her how flexible my elbows are, she said “Oh, I would love to have that much flexibility.” Other instructors in the past have told me similar things.
It really pisses me off when gym instructors, who are trained to know and understand the workings of the human body, assume that having loose ligaments is a good thing. I have never found it to be in any way beneficial to me, and it has led to the following problems:
- Due to my loose ligaments failing to properly support my joints while I was growing up, my muscles developed incorrectly. This had the most effect on my feet. My heel muscles did not develop fully, and as a result I learned to walk using the wrong muscles and the wrong foot and limb positions. I developed extremely bad bunions. This problem has been caught, and my bunions are no longer getting worse, but I have to wear extremely expensive specially-fitted carbonfibre insoles as often as possible. My feet are now so wide at the toes that many shoes do not fit me, esp. with the need to use the insoles, and I find it very uncomfortable to wear high heels (even low heels) for long periods of time.
- My back muscles are also extremely tight because they are trying to do the extra work of holding together my back that the ligaments are failing to do. My shoulders and my neck are extremely tight because my neck is not properly supported by my back muscles. My chest muscles are also extremely weak. As a result, I find it difficult to carry much weight for long periods, even if it’s in a well-designed rucksack.
- Due to my posture developing badly when I was growing up, I ended up with a lower jaw that was slightly too long (the jaw grows to balance the rest of the spine). As a result, I grew up with molars that did not meet, so I could not chew properly, and incisors that met end-to-end, so that they got chipped away. In order to correct this, I had to have my wisdom teeth cut out before they had emerged from my jaw, and I then had to have a major jaw operation to move my lower jaw backwards and shorten it slightly. I now have 6 titanium pins in my upper and lower jaws. And the molars still do not meet on one side of my mouth.
- Because my knees are turned inwards slightly, and because my leg and foot muscles developed wrongly, I find it extremely difficult to run, which meant that almost all sports at school were difficult for me, often humiliatingly so.
All my muscle weaknesses and stiffnesses can be corrected, over time, given the right exercises, but it is an extremely difficult and very lengthy process. My dad also has the same problems with loose ligaments and resulting muscle tightness. My mother has been going to pilates classes for over 10 years and she is now much more flexible than when she started, but it’s taken a long time.
Fixing all these issues requires a level of attention to detail that is exhausting, because I always have to pay attention to my body and the effect on my muscles whenever I am doing physical activities – stretching, aerobic exercises, strengthening exercises, everything – to make sure that I am not doing an exercise that will make the situation worse. One-on-one consultations with a trained instructor are the best way for me to learn exercises that are targeted to my problems, but even then I sometimes have to advise the instructor that certain exercises are not appropriate for me.
In one thing I am lucky: I have never had a dislocation of any joint. That is a very common side-effect of having loose ligaments, and of course once a joint has been dislocated it is easily dislocated again. I have not had to deal with that.
Nowadays, according to my podiatrist (who I have been visiting for over 10 years), doctors test for hypermobility when a baby is born, esp. if one or both parents is known to have the condition. They realise that the condition can have a huge impact if it is not dealt with, and it also has to be dealt with as early as possible in order to prevent problems developing. Apparently, the podiatrist has fitted insoles for babies as young as six months, who are not even walking yet, to provide their feet with the support they need so that the muscles grow correctly.
Anyone who thinks that having loose ligaments is an advantage should do a bit more research and learn that that assessment is wrong.