Today, I’d like to talk about hypermobility. If you are unfamiliar with the term, hypermobility means that your joints are more flexible. It’s also referred to as being double-jointed. Some people experience pain, and some don’t. If you do, it could be a condition that needs some attention and support, so talk to your doctor or do a quick internet search on joint hypermobility syndrome if you’d rather.
Before I start, I should say that some of my description does trigger me. If you have dislocated a joint or two, and hate the sensation as much as I do, best skip the next two or three paragraphs. It isn’t graphic, but I’d rather put the warning, just in case.
As I write this, I’ve got my arm in a makeshift sling because, a couple of hours ago, I dislocated my shoulder. While changing my daughter, I sneezed, and my shoulder came out. “Came out” makes it sound normal, or painless. It isn’t.
Dislocating a joint is one of the worst (if not the worst) pains I’ve ever experienced. It isn’t just pain. It’s accompanied by that sickening, jarring wrongness of something being out of place. The strain on the skin, the awful creaking popping sensation that makes me feel sick. It isn’t the first time, and unfortunately I doubt it will be the last.
The last time I dislocated my shoulder, maybe a year or so ago, was a similar situation. I was holding my phone out in front of me to take a picture of my little girl. I sneezed. And the force of the sneeze caused my shoulder to wrench itself out of its socket.
I consider myself lucky. Though my hypermobility means that my joints are more likely to say fuck it and run, they also go back in on their own. I cannot imagine the horror of experiencing that pain, that detachment, for more than a few seconds.
I used to dance. I lived and breathed it. The discipline and the freedom. Performing, practising, learning. I knew I’d never be able to make a life out of it; I’m a big girl. Even when I was fit, I have broad shoulders and I consider myself to have a bulky frame. Not at all the picture perfect ballerina, or spunky hip hop girl. In the best shape of my life, I dwarfed the other girls. When I was unknowingly struggling with gender roles and my image of myself, there was no way I would be able to keep standing next to these beautiful slender feminine girls. Even if I might have had some talent.
I gave up ice skating because it put too much pressure on my joints. But even after I dislocated my knee for the first time, with no idea what was happening, I fought to get back up on stage a few short days later to finish the project I was part of. Since then, over the years, I have dislocated my knees three more times, and my shoulder twice. Not including the close calls where I managed to pull myself back just before they fully popped.
My joints are flexible, but I don’t have the strength to keep them in place. My muscles aren’t built enough to support them. Hypermobility is quite common. I am hypermobile in most of my joints, scoring a nine on the test (out of nine), but lots of people have swaybacks or can do weird tricks with their fingers to gross out the girls in their class at school. I know that so many people have it a lot worse than I do. My pain is widespread, but not acute. I ache, but it’s mostly background noise.
Hypermobility affects a lot of people. But I really don’t know much about it. After I dislocated my knee the second time, the people in A&E told me I was mistaken because it couldn’t have happened the way it did. I have regular joint pain, but I always assigned that to a throwback from a medical condition I suffered with as a child. For a while, I couldn’t go a day without my joints aching like an arthritic old woman on a rainy day.
I guess, like my posts about mental health, this is something that can affect a lot of people. Yet, we don’t talk about it. There are things I can’t do because of my joints, because it feels like they’re going to pop out if I do. I was scared for years that I was crippled and that I wouldn’t be able to walk by the time I was thirty if my joints were so bad when I was only sixteen.
I gave up things that I loved, because I was afraid of hurting myself. There are so many exercises to help people with hypermobility to gain the strength they need. But how can we overcome our difficulties and shine if no one tells us how?
Swimming and cycling are great activities that put limited strain on your joints and still allow you to stay active and build the oh-so necessary muscle.
The most useful site I’ve personally found for information and exercises lately is here: https://gmb.io/hypermobility/
Your body isn’t working against you. It doesn’t always have to be a battle of what your joints will allow from one day to the next. It’s hard work, and some self-care. There is NO SHAME in taking painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Someone I looked up to mentioned off-hand that they disagree with taking painkillers when you’re still active because your body is telling you when to stop. That is a fair point. It just wasn’t relative to my situation. I still didn’t know why everything hurt, so I stopped taking the ibuprofen for a long time, and tried to struggle through.
Granted, I was (and am) also desperate for approval. But you’re not here to impress anyone. No one can tell you if your pain is “worth” medication. If it will help, and you have been prescribed it or it’s an over-the-counter, don’t put yourself through more than you need to. It isn’t a weakness. You won’t win any medals for suffering.
Being hypermobile can be an amazing thing. Even if you only use it to get a laugh or freak out your friends. Even if it is just a conversation starter.
Stay safe, exercise smart, and love yourself.