Playing It Loose: Limits to Motion

Physical therapists say the hypermobile person has a much harder job, physically and psychologically—here's why.
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Physical therapists say the hypermobile person has a much harder job, physically and psychologically—here's why.

Those born naturally flexible face a different challenge entirely: "The hypermobile person has a much harder job, physically and psychologically,"says Leslie Kaminoff, founder of The Breathing Project, an educational organization that operates out of a Manhattan studio. "Teachers like to have fun with these people and see what they can do. But they need boundaries. They need to not move into their full range of motion."

Harvey Deutch has been a physical therapist in San Francisco for 22 years ; during that time, he says, he's seen a lot of broken yogis, most of whom err on the side of overflexibility. For these people, the key to successful practice is to know what range of motion is normal for a joint and to not exceed it—even if they easily can. "We see these very flexible women in yoga classes who can flop into poses completely," he says. "Because their ligaments and soft tissues don't create a barrier, they can end up going way too far into a pose. And they run the risk of destroying their joints—and their spine in particular—in the process."

In yoga, all things are relative, but from a physical therapy standpoint, Deutch says, there is a clear–cut range of motion everyone should aim for. "The science of measuring the angles created by joints is called goniometry. Each joint has a range of motion, and those motion limits should always be honored."

To that end, Deutch outlines the following limits to motion in the hips, shoulders, and ankles:

Shoulders:

  • Flexion 180°
  • Abduction 180°
  • Internal rotation 70-80°
  • External rotation 45-60°
  • Extension 45-60°

Hips:

  • Flexion 120°
  • Extension 30-40°
  • External rotation 45-60°
  • Internal rotation 45°

Ankles:

  • Dorisflexion 15-20°
  • Plantar flexion 50°