Hypa-What? Hyperextension


Fancy word, oh no!  Jargon alert! *siren blares*  Enough bad jokes.  I haven’t done a FYI post for a bit, so I thought, “Hey, why not tell people about your freaky arms, and how it helps you dance?”  Hence, this post.

Some of you may have heard the term double-jointed in reference to yourself or someone else.  This is a misnomer.  There is no such thing as double joints.  Instead, what they really meant was hyper-extension.  Did you ever know someone with really weird legs or arms?  Could he/she bend his/her fingers all the way back to their wrist?  It’s not a mutation, I promise.  So, what the heck is hyper-extension?  Yours truly is going to explain all this to you in the simplest terms she can muster (because science majors have a habit of using jargon too much 😉 ).

Like the name implies, this condition describes when any extremity moves beyond its natural range of motion.  This is also a very common sports injury.  However, there are some people who are born with arms and/or legs that do this naturally.  Biologists consider this to be a defect, but for us dancers, it can be pretty nice.  The bones in any extremity have strong chords of fibers called ligaments (which join bone to bone) and tendons (which join muscle to muscle).  Ligaments and tendons give structural support to the limbs and limit their range of motion.  In people with natural hyper-extension, the ligaments and tendons are much more lax and allow the limb to move past what may be considered natural.  In my case, one of my science teacher’s also said it could be a slight, but harmless abnormality in what’s called a bone process, which is a rounded part at the end of your bone that fits into a small socket of the connecting bone.

How do you know if you have hyper-extension?  First, look at your arms and legs when they are fully straightened.  Do the lines they make extend past ninety degrees?  If they do, you have hyper-extension.  Here’s a picture of my arm:

Weird, isn’t it?  But, as you can see, my arm juts a little to my left when it’s fully straightened.  I also have hyper-extension in my legs, but it’s very hard to see unless you view them fully straightened from the side, so I can’t really take a good picture of it.

What does this mean for dancers?  First, it makes very unique lines.  Second, it gives you additional flexibility.  However, there are disadvantages.  Since the ligaments and tendons are already lax, you have to be extra careful when you stretch because you don’t really no how far your limb will extend until it does.  That goes for any dancer, too.  In ballet, I cannot fully straighten my arms because it will break the line.  I also have a really hard time getting into fifth position because of that additional flexibility, so I have to practice hard in order to build and orient my muscles properly.

Dancers without natural hyper-extension can also acquire a bit of it through their dancing because they constantly use their arms/legs.  But, this can be a sign of weakening ligaments and tendons.

So, is it an advantage or disadvantage?  In my opinion, it’s neither.  Sure, I’ll get a double-take once in a while, but it’s really no different from any other quirk you may have.  I’ve seen people with eyes of two different colors, and one of my middle school friends could rotate all ten of her fingers in and out of their sockets.  It’s weirdly wonderful, and it’s just something that’s there.  Do you have any unique physical traits/abilities?

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