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Hello Joints, How Are You Today?

November 1, 2011



This week I started seeing a physical therapist for an old shoulder injury which never healed. I was told that I have an inflamed subscapular muscle and that I had something called hypermobility syndrome, which means that my joints are naturally too loose, which puts me at risk for all kinds of joint problems including an increased risk for dislocation, misalignment, tendinitis, and early onset osteoarthritis.

Would that last one scare you? Yeah, it scared me too.

I immediately thought of two posts by Ragen at Dances With Fat: “My Joints, My Fat, and Me” and “The Trouble With Proving It.” My first thought was about all of the things I love to do and how this would affect them, but in close second was, “they’ll blame it on my fat.” And by “they” I mean society. This thought was made worse when today I discovered that I have early signs of arthritis in my knees, especially my right knee due to the hypermobility. Apparently my shoulder injury was also exacerbated by this syndrome.

Hypermobile pinky finger

My hypermobile pinky finger

A few months ago I was on a fitness forum (that’s right, I love fitness! The fellow fitness enthusiasts couldn’t understand, however, why my goal wasn’t weight loss) discussing various exercises. I discovered a new love for the kettleball  (I have a serious love of swinging things around) and mentioned how this exercise was out for me at the moment because of my shoulder injuries. So, someone asked how the injury happened. Funny story: I was holding my son three years ago, tripped, and hit the floor — BAM! That’s it. A fairly boring story with a lot of resulting pain, loss of mobility, and interference in my life. What was the reaction? “Well a normal person wouldn’t have hurt themselves from a fall like that. It’s because you’re fat!”

While I’m sure my weight added some extra force, the major factor in the injury was that my arms were full (with a child!) so I couldn’t catch myself. But, no, let’s blame it on the fat. We blame everything else on fat, so why not? I can just imagine how these fitness gurus would react to a Fatty McFatterson with arthritis, especially in a weight-bearing joint.

Luckily, I seem to have the best physical therapist ever! Not once has she mentioned my weight, not even when talking about my knee. In fact, what she said was that the only effective way to improve joint health, and help prevent future joint problems, was through muscle strengthening and isometrics.

I have a whole list of these that I’m doing as well for both my upper and lower body. Isometrics are muscle-strengthening and stability exercises done without moving — think kegels! Just standing there and flexing muscles is good for them!

As Dances With Fat talks about in the above post I mentioned, weight loss is not only unrealistic in general, but being thinner doesn’t guarantee prevention of joint problems since I am, firstly, prone to them due to hypermobility syndrome and, secondly, thin people get joint problems all of the time. In fact, my physical therapist, a thin woman, has had two partial knee replacements and multiple surgeries.

Pre-Body Acceptance I may have become one of those fatties who insisted I needed to lose weight for my joints because we all know that fat people put excess wear and tear on their joints, and wear and tear always leads to joint problems, right*?

I would have spent my time damaging my health further through dangerous weight loss methods that would be ineffective (my body doesn’t even weight cycle; it just straight up refuses to lose weight to begin with!) and would have never thought to focus on fitness in a non-weight loss way, or specific muscle strengthening.

I didn’t panic and beat myself up for being so fat that I’ve damaged my joints at 26, and I don’t feel ashamed of admitting that I have joint issues. Like most illnesses related to “the obesity epidemic” this is not a weight-related problem.

Instead, I will spend my time strengthening, balancing, and listening to my body. I will take the time to be preventative in an effective way and I will raise awareness about joint health. I will teach my son these things early, since he has hypermobility syndrome as well, rather than assuming he’s safe because he’s thin. This is taking control of my health, not obsessing over weight loss.

Check out my new leg weights! Starting with 6 lbs for my knee strengthening leg lifts!

*TL;DR: This study showed that runners (who are traditionally thought to frequently suffer knee injury) do not show a greater rate of osteoarthritis and, in fact, muscle-strengthening exercises, like running, lessen the risk for osteoarthritis. We can hypothesize on what this means for fat people, who are at an increased risk of osteoarthritis. This may be because fat people are shamed and stigmatized into not exercising (while also shamed and stigmatized for not exercising), and therefore have weaker muscle strength around weight-bearing joints. Like many issues related to “the obesity epidemic,” correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2011 10:04 am

    Okay, I just watched the video and all I can say is, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!”

    I can’t believe you can bend your knees back like that! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!

    That is amazing and… AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!

    Sorry, it’s just so weird and cool!

    And people are so stupid. You could actually demonstrate this to people, show them the evidence that those with hypermobility syndrome are prone to joint problems, and they’d STILL say, “Well, if you weren’t fat, it probably wouldn’t have happened so soon.”

    Oh, just shut the fuck up already! Individual responses to illnesses are individual! But with our medical establishment declaring obesity as the cause of all woes for the misbegotten, that’s how society sees it.

    I think it’s awesome that you’ve found a good PT and are working on addressing your issues, and not the issues of those around you.

    Great post.

    Peace,
    Shannon

    • hlkolaya permalink
      November 1, 2011 1:55 pm

      haha.. I wish I could feel bad for making you feel so squeamish but your reaction is too funny 😛 My husband actually reacted the same way when I showed him- I find it odd that in 11 years he’s never noticed!

  2. November 1, 2011 10:27 am

    Huh…I thought all knees bent like that – cause mine do that too. My hands, not so much, but I guess my knees are hypermobile.

    • November 1, 2011 11:12 am

      I know, it’s weird how our “default” body status can inform how we think of “normal” in this world. For the longest time, I thought it was normal to produce inordinate amounts of earwax, but turns out I’m a disgusting candle-making freak!

      Peace,
      Shannon

    • hlkolaya permalink
      November 1, 2011 1:04 pm

      I always thought that knees just bent like that too! lol It was really weird when she told me that they were, in fact, not supposed to do that. Since then I’ve been observing how people stand and how their joints bend and, indeed, most knees don’t bend back like that. Of course, hypermobility isn’t uncommon- 5% still means 1 in 20 people which is a lot.

  3. Bronwen permalink
    November 1, 2011 12:36 pm

    Ow. Just looking at that makes me say, “OW!”

    But then, when I had physical therapy after the knee surgery, my PT told me that I have knees like a guy. It seems that male knees don’t hyper-extend very much, and my knees don’t either.

    When he told me, I thought, “Sure, just one more way my body isn’t feminine!”

    And yeah, when I injured my knee, I was told by so many people how if I was fat, I’d never have had the injury! Just lose weight, and it’d be all better! *rolls eyes*

    • hlkolaya permalink
      November 1, 2011 1:54 pm

      Bronwen, hypermobility *is* more common in women. Women can become more hypermobile during pregnancy (helps with the birthing), and during ovulation (I believe.. I know the PT said it had something to do with hormonal changes), so maybe that’s what your PT meant.

      • Kala permalink
        November 2, 2011 1:27 pm

        When I was in high school, we had a research program class and there was a girl working with a local physical therapist and investigating ACL injuries in female athletes and how it relates to the menstrual cycle. They took measurements of how mobile joints were at different stages of the cycle using this odd machine that I don’t recall the name for. I think ultimately they found corroborates what you just said there. So there’s definitely a link between muscles and connective tissues and female hormones.

  4. November 2, 2011 3:39 am

    Yes, women’s joints do become more mobile during pregnancy due to more progesterone and due to relaxin, a hormone that loosens the ligaments. This helps the pelvic structure open more easily to let the baby through.

    Of course, the relaxin is systemic and doesn’t just affect your pelvic bowl. It’s why many women experience an increase in shoe size after several pregnancies.

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