Gymnastics Series: How much mobility is too much mobility?

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Gymnastics Series: How much mobility is too much mobility?

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Hypermobility, or excessive movement, is a factor that is often beneficial in gymnastics and ballet, but what does hypermobility mean for the young athlete? And is it a good or a bad thing?

The degree of compliance in connective tissue is genetically determined. Between 10-20% of people have connective tissue that is more pliable (or looser) than usual. So some degree of joint hypermobility can be viewed as part of the normal variation in the structure of the connective tissue within the population.
Hypermobility is not always associated with movement difficulties. It is more often the combination of hypermobility, weakness, muscle tightness, and pain that leads to movement difficulties and dysfunctional movements.
The laxity of the joint ligaments makes them more vulnerable to injury. Weak muscles are less able to protect the joints during everyday activities that require a degree of fitness and agility. Joint integrity and pain can be reduced by strengthening weak muscles, increasing flexibility of tight muscles and improving coordination.
Today we are going to focus on the elbow joint, since that is the second most common area of injury in the gymnast, following the wrist. In people with hypermobility seen at the elbow, the elbow can be extended to form a backward angle as seen below.
When this is seen in the gymnast population, it is important that when performing tumbling passes and any weight-bearing tricks to remember to protect the elbow joint. This can be learned by weight-bearing in an all-fours position and note the normal amount of extension you have in the elbow (picture on left). If this is excessive or does not occur in a straight line (as seen below) retraining these muscles for a straight alignment can be done as shown below.
       Hyperextended position (pictured above); Normal alignment (pictured below)
              

For any questions on elbow injuries or any other injuries, contact us at one of our seven locations to be evaluated by one of our physical therapists!