Hypermobility Could Be Linked to Pain
Recently a study on hypermobility and the prevalence of knee pain and other symptoms has been conducted. This study was done on humans, just to be clear. Hypermobility is when the joint is able to move into more extreme positions (bigger range of motion) than the standards, based on the general population. In this study they put forth a questionnaire to more than 2000 adults. They looked primarily at two types of hypermobility: General Joint Hypermobility throughout the whole body (GJH) and Knee Joint Hypermobility (KJH). You might think that those with hypermobility in the knee joints would be the ones experiencing the most knee symptoms like pain and reduced performance. But as it turned out BOTH groups - those experiencing knee joint hypermobility AND those experiencing hypermobility in other body joints (and not the knees) were more prone to knee pain, reduced performance of their usual activities and a lower health-related quality of life – all due to knee problems. In fact, having hypermobile joints in your body, seem to make you two times more likely to develop knee-joint related symptoms like the ones mentioned before.
So being a little hypermobile myself and for the first time in my life experiencing some knee-related troubles this study caught my attention. And it started a whole string of thoughts. The first was "Shit, I do yoga - I do not need to become more flexible!" But then I calmed myself and thought a little more. And as long as we take care not to overstretch our joints in our yoga practice but work primarily with our muscle tone - and for us riders our extra tight hamstrings - then yoga would most likely only be beneficial as it counteracts the stiffness sneaking in through our everyday lives.
Having put that to rest, my mind wandered on, chewing on this study. And as always, my mind started asking: What would this mean for our horses?
We are breeding more and more flexible and hypermobile horses across a lot of breeds. They have to be more hypermobile to become more spectacular to be able to win shows and make an impression on the crowd. More lift of the front legs, bigger gaits, longer strides, higher jumps. And what does it mean for the horse to be hypermobile?
I am not quite sure for horses. But I know that for humans it requires a lot of extra muscle strength and body awareness to become a good pain free athlete with hypermobile joints. In the training of the young horses this strengthening part is often neglected. You see videos of magnificent warmblood youngsters, barely 3 years old, with hypermobile joints moving with such a spring to their step and such speed and load, that already at this point you are able to see some very dangerous signs of physical breakdown. It is not healthy to have extreme load in the end of a joint range of motion. That will make the joint looser and put quite a lot of strain on the ligaments and tendons. Sometimes you see these young horse’s fetlocks touching the ground when landing in the trot. And this is not supposed to happen! Over time, maybe just in a few years, those horses will break down and have several injuries.
But as this study from our human world suggests - it might not only be in the affected hypermobile joints that problems arise. Maybe horses, who are hypermobile, tend to be more prone to pains and reduced performance in other joints as well.
So maybe it is time to stop and take a look at our breeding material and choices? Maybe it's time to turn the tide and start breeding for less spectacular movements and instead looking at which horses have actually been able to perform regularly for years and years until quite a high age (15+) and choose these horses (or stallions) as studs to ensure a healthier development in our horse’s physics.