Friday, February 17, 2017

Stuff I Learned - 2nd Semester, Week #4

Initially I had returned to school to explore the interface of aerobic exercise and contemplative practices, though my personal interest in joint laxity quickly subsumed my other research questions. While I still hope to explore how aerobic exercise may (or may not) facilitate the recognition of Yoga (Union), I've found that the subject of joint laxity has fully drawn me in.
Hyperextended knees are common with joint laxity
(Image from

As a quick review of past blog postings, joint laxity is a trait that some people are born with. Loose joints are not something that you acquire through yoga practice... joint laxity is distributed via the birth-lottery. Interestingly, the yoga community does seem to be disproportionately populated by people with joint laxity. I'm guessing that this over-representation of hyper mobile people within yoga is based on a self-selection; yoga may be more interesting when loose joints allow you to move more deeply into poses, and for those without joint laxity - yoga may not be as interesting and/or rewarding.

Joint laxity has been shown to correlate with many conditions, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and a greater incidence of autoimmune disease and anxiety. The latter, in particular, deeply interests me. Why is anxiety positively correlated to joint laxity? What are the mechanisms? What, if any, physical activities may help manage the challenges of joint laxity? And more relevant to my proposed research questions - what physical practices may offer the most relief for those that live with anxiety?

As part of my graduate studies, I've been reading a lot of academic papers about joint laxity, its incidence, and the various conditions that are related to joint laxity. Earlier this week I read a paper from France that I found interesting.

In this paper, the authors evaluated the joint laxity, affective state and body-awareness of a randomly selected group of undergraduates at a French university. There were several results from this study of join laxity concerning anxiety and internal body awareness, though I personally found one result the most interesting... the incidence of joint laxity within this cohort!

The prevailing view has been that joint laxity occurs in 10-15% of the population, with a greater incidence in females than in males. I've suspected that the incidence of joint laxity may be increasing, though I have not had much evidence to support this view.

While the rigor of this study left much to be desired, the authors found that joint laxity was present in almost 40% of the students that were tested! While I think it's premature to stand on the rooftops and shout that the incidence of joint laxity is increasing, I think that this study provides some initial evidence that the incidence of joint laxity may, indeed, be increasing.

And with the strong connection between joint laxity and anxiety, it seems like the reports of an increasing incidence of anxiety and the possibility of an increasing incidence of joint laxity may be related.

I look forward to delving more deeply into the neural mechanisms underlying joint laxity, and have recently submitted a proposal for funding my first experiments toward this end. I'll let you know what unfolds!


Jenny Lee said...

As someone with both an autoimmune disease (type 1 Diabetes since the age of 6) and a fair amount of anxiety, I anxiously await any news as to what exercises will help! Hopefully something I already like. Pilates and strength training??

Phil Jensen said...

Scott, This relates more to your post on on the vestibular system. About 2 years ago i had an occurrence of benign positional vertigo BPPV. It reoccurred around the end of 2016. It has taken me almost 6 weeks from the last physical therapy adjustment to "reprogram". I was getting discouraged when i happened to run into my physical therapist while teaching my weekly yoga class at the Marshfield Clinic. She gave me a really valuable practical tool
that speeded my recovery. It is an exercise working with the VOR vestibular Ocular Reflex. Rather than describe it here, you can google the exercise.
What a profound effect this simple exercise had on my recovery. Not only my physical symptoms were relieved but my emotional experience shifted as well. Here's the punch line in looking for movement or postural patterns that address both physical and emotional issues. Could reflex triggers or multiple neural input mechanisms dive closer to the root of both issues simultaniously?
Use 2 tools at once? Hold with the vice grips and turn with the crescent wrench at the same time? facinating stuff! Good luck with it all! Phil

Johnna said...

I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for posting. I'm a yoga therapist, certified with IAYT, as well as a massage therapist and former RN. And... I fit into the category of joint laxity and agree with your points on those of us with hyper mobile joints being naturally drawn to yoga. And eventually many of us have pain due to continuing to see more flexibility and not being taught to stabilize our joints instead.
I wanted to offer a bit on info for you, as you seek to understand the connection between joint laxity and chronic pain and anxiety. In Ayurveda, those with a Vata constitution tend to have looser ligaments and more prominent joints, which tend to crack a lot. They also are more susceptible to joint pain and anxiety. It would be interesting to add a dosha test to the other research to discover how many of these people are Vata.
Love and Light, Johnna Langlo

Radhika Sharma said...

How it works is you offer a 2 to 4 hour per day kids yoga camp for a week. Each day, the kids do some yoga, holistically-oriented activities and learn some (Don't worry; you're not trying to get kids to do yoga for 4 hours!).

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