Hypermobility is something that many people struggle with, and can effect musicians when playing their instrument. Without going into too much detail.. having hypermobile joints is commonly referred to as being 'double jointed' or having loose ligaments, and these joints become a problem when they frequently extend past a safe range of motion.
Some signs of hypermobility are:
- You can bend your fingers back more than 90 degrees.
- You can touch your thumb to your arm.
- You have joints that easily dislocate when doing a simple task.
I experience hypermobility, but the joints that cause me the most issues are in my hands, feet, and ankles (and sometimes kneecaps). I often experience a stiffness and sometimes pain in my feet and ankles, especially when standing for long periods of time.
Having hypermobile fingers does not usually cause me pain, but when learning the violin as a child I struggled with keeping my fingers curved. My pinky dislocated frequently when reaching to a lower string, or sometimes with an 'extended 4' fingering. I still have some issues with my fingers, but over the years I have worked to increase joint strength and control.
Some things that have really helped me:
Awareness of technique on my instrument. Making sure that each time I placed a finger on the fingerboard, I did so with patience and careful observation to ensure I didn't overextend or dislocate a joint in the process. This means using base knuckle action, and keeping the fingers curved enough so that they don't collapse. This also means taking time to rebuild your proprioceptive system (how the brain perceives your own movement) so that you know what a safe finger joint action feels like. As a violist, I love Dounis exercises for this type of slow left hand practice.
Picking things up intentionally with a curved finger and thumb. When I first was learning to play the violin, I would get a small can of tomato paste out of the pantry and carry it with my pinky and thumb while reading or watching tv. Eventually I upgraded to heaver cans like corn or beans. I took my time with this and stopped before my hand fatigued. This helped me develop basic strength in my pinky to do everyday tasks without dislocating.
I used a Gripmaster to develop more finger strength. This is completely unnecessary for people with a normal joint range, and I used it sparingly. Because repetitive stress injury can be aggravated by these types of strengthening tools, do not use if you have any forearm, wrist, or hand issues. Don't use for any extended period of time, but maybe do one or two independent finger exercises during the day if you find it helpful. I quit using this on a regular basis because I don't want to do anything that promotes gripping my instrument.
Theraband for improving joint strength, and as a 'counter movement' warmup before playing my instrument.
Using finger splints on days when that finger joint does not want to be cooperative. These can offer joint stability, especially when working on strength building exercises so that you can't overextend. They aren't the most comfortable thing to have on while practicing, but maybe one day I'll upgrade to splint rings if I feel the need to use them more frequently.
Hypermobile joints are at higher risk for injury, and common long-term issues are joint pain, degenerative cartilage, and osteoarthritis. If you're a musician and have joint pain in your hands, don't be afraid to seek out a doctor that can refer you to a physical or occupational therapist. They can provide you with exercises to improve your specific issue and help prevent long term injury.
Do you or your students have issues with being hypermobile? Are there exercises or resources that have helped you? I'd love to hear your experience in the comments below. :)
To learn more about hypermobility: