Flexibility is something that most athletes aspire to, but until recently I never thought about there being a problem with it. After all, I spend a fair bit of time stretching and trying to increase my mobility; most of my athletic friends do the same.
My daughter, however, struggles with hyper-mobility. According to the Hypermobility Syndromes Association, hypermobility is most common in childhood and adolescence, in females, and Asian and Afro-Caribbean races. It tends to lessen with age. In many people joint hypermobility is of no medical consequence and commonly does not give rise to symptoms. Hypermobility can even be considered an advantage, for example athletes, gymnasts, dancers and musicians might specifically be selected because of their extra range of movement.
That describes my daughter pretty well. She is Asian and aspired to be a dancer. When she was learning to dance en pointe at 12, she took a good year longer than her classmates to master the skill. That was because she needed time to develop foot muscles strong enough to compensate for her loose ligaments.
Still, that mobility looked pretty cool on stage. She could move effortlessly into the splits, then side splits, them touch the floor with her head from that position.
Now that she is no longer dancing for hours every day, she struggles with joint pain. Despite being very fit by most standards, she needs to do even more exercise to strengthen her muscles since her ligaments don’t do their job properly. So far, the promise of symptoms lessening with age has not materialized, so she will be getting advice from her physiotherapist on a home gym set-up so that she can do weight training in the basement.
While she does that, I will be reflecting on different bodies and how they work. This blog has often commented on the common stereotypes of fat/unhealthy and thin/fit, and how both can lead to poor health outcomes for people. I knew that there are injury risks with almost every sport, and stretching before and after exercise is one way to minimize those risks. Until my daughter started suffering, I had no idea that it was possible to be in pain because your body is naturally so stretchy.
Lesson learned. I’ll add this to my growing list of gender analysis considerations, my list of ways that something can affect different people in different ways – some good, some neutral, and some bad, depending on the individual and their circumstances. It has been a good reminder on the importance of checking my biases, and not making assumptions about anyone else’s health or fitness.