Joint Hypermobility Syndrome and Yoga & Pilates

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The word "hypermobility" describes a condition that causes excess range of motion in your joints. The results of a 2005 study published in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine" indicate that hypermobility made junior netball players significantly more susceptible to sport-related injuries. As flexibility-enhancing exercise methods such as yoga and Pilates gain popularity, participants who use these methods as their only exercise may be setting themselves up for future injury.

Flexibility vs. Stability

"In flexibility and in life, you should never be more flexible than you are strong." Back in the 1970s, dancer Hattie Wiener, owner of the School for Creative Movement in New York City, often repeated these words to her students. As of 2011, Wiener is in her 70s and still writing books on aging gracefully.

Functional training coach Vern Gambetta agrees. In an article titled "Too Much Too Loose," Gambetta warns that the "cult of flexibility" encourages athletes to stretch beyond a functional range of motion. When you overstretch the muscles surrounding your joints, explains Gambetta, you compromise joint stability and integrity, making yourself more susceptible to injury.

Yoga Injuries

Yoga positions such as Full Lotus force external hip rotation, and may damage the ligaments and cartilage around the knees, warns instructor Lee Crews, in an article on the International Dance Exercise Association website. Crews also warns that postures such as Downward-facing Dog, which involve supporting your weight with your upper body, may overstretch the shoulder joints and damage the surrounding bursae sacs. Overstretching these muscle groups weakens them, making them less efficient at supporting your weight during impact activities.

Yoga vs. Pilates

Joseph Pilates studied yoga and incorporated some of its principles into his technique, but despite their similarly, the two exercise methods have some distinct differences. When Pilates developed his technique during the early 20th century, he was quick to see that hypermobility poses significant problems. Pilates elders -- instructors that studied directly with "the master" -- tell anecdotes of Joe vehemently moving his students out of an overstretched position. Pilates exercise never involves postures or poses. It stresses continuous movement, which develops strength and flexibility simultaneously. These movements should not cause hypermobility, but unfortunately, the similarity between the two methods inspires some instructors to either misinterpret the Pilates method or to create hybrid classes that combine stretches after each Pilates exercise.


Joint hypermobility syndrome is relatively easy to spot. If you appear "double-jointed," if you often wobble when you walk, or if you tend to lose your balance, you might be naturally flexible, or you might have unintentionally developed hypermobility from your exercise program. If you are naturally flexible, you probably require less time in yoga and Pilates class and more time in the weight room. The Pilates apparatus provides effective strength training, so if you only take Pilates mat classes, switch to equipment sessions. Some studios offer cost-effective group equipment training.