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Famous Athletes with Hypermobility

Updated On:
March 2024
David Harris

There are many famous athletes who have hypermobile joints. Hypermobility can be both a blessing and a challenge in the competitive sports arena. Hypermobility, particularly when it falls under the category of Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS) or Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder (HSD), requires careful management to prevent injury. Nonetheless, several athletes have not only managed their condition but also excelled in their sports, often using their unique flexibility to their advantage.

Famous Athletes with Hypermobility and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome:

Here are a few notable athletes known for their hypermobility:

  1. Simone Biles - Regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Simone Biles has demonstrated incredible flexibility and strength. While not officially diagnosed with hEDS or HSD publicly, her extraordinary flexibility and the physical demands of gymnastics raise considerations about hypermobility's role in her performance.
  2. Misty Copeland - As a groundbreaking ballerina, Misty Copeland has shown remarkable flexibility and strength, traits that have propelled her to the top of the ballet world. Ballet dancers, much like gymnasts, often exhibit levels of flexibility that suggest hypermobility, which can be an asset in their demanding performances.
  3. Michael Phelps - The most decorated Olympian of all time, swimmer Michael Phelps, has a unique physical build with a long torso and flexible joints, contributing to his swimming prowess. While Phelps is not publicly known to have hEDS or HSD, his joint flexibility, especially in his ankles, has been highlighted as a factor in his swimming efficiency.
  4. Usain Bolt - The world-renowned sprinter, known for his incredible speed, has discussed his scoliosis, which is a condition that can co-occur with hypermobility. While not directly linked to hypermobility, his ability to overcome physical challenges and excel in sprinting highlights the diverse impacts of joint and connective tissue conditions on athletic performance.
  5. Patrick Mahomes - His quick recovery from a patella dislocation highlights the impact of hypermobility on athletic performance and resilience. Following a quarterback sneak that resulted in a dislocated knee cap, the initial outlook seemed grim for Mahomes. However, thanks to his "double-jointed" nature, as reported by Ian Rapoport, an NFL sportswriter, Mahomes experienced a remarkably swift recovery. This unique physical trait allowed his knee to sustain less damage than typically expected in such injuries, underscoring how hypermobility can provide a protective advantage in certain high-impact sports scenarios. Mahomes' case illustrates that, with proper management and understanding of their physical condition, athletes with hypermobility can overcome significant injuries and return to peak performance levels.

These athletes illustrate that with proper management and training, individuals with hypermobility can achieve extraordinary levels of athletic achievement. It's important for athletes with hypermobility to work closely with medical professionals to ensure they maintain their health while pushing the boundaries of their sports.

High Prevalence of Hypermobility in Dancers and Figure Skaters

In the worlds of dance, gymnastics, acrobatics, and skating, extraordinary flexibility isn't just an asset—it's often the hallmark of success. However, for individuals living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS) or a hypermobility spectrum disorder (HSD), this natural advantage comes with significant challenges.

The Double-Edged Sword of Hypermobility

Hypermobility serves as a competitive edge in the rigorous fields of dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics. Researchers, such as those in the study by Briggs et al. (2009), have noted a high prevalence of joint hypermobility among participants in these disciplines. Yet, this same trait that enables performers to excel can also predispose them to a range of complications, from increased injury risks to chronic pain and joint instability.

Kate Schultz, a former dancer with hEDS, encapsulates this paradox: initially celebrated for her exceptional flexibility, she later encountered the downside as her flexibility evolved into instability, affecting her well-being and ending her dance career.

The Challenge of Underdiagnosis

One of the critical issues facing athletes with hEDS or HSD is the widespread under diagnosis of these conditions. Many in the performing arts who suffer from extreme hypermobility might not realize that their physical traits could be symptomatic of a broader, systemic issue, leading to a lack of appropriate medical care and support. Jessica Adelman's story is a testament to this, as she navigated through 11 years and 18 doctors to receive her hEDS diagnosis, by which time her competitive gymnastics career was irreparably impacted.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis and Management

Early identification and diagnosis of hEDS and HSD can significantly alter the management and outcome for athletes. Tailored physical therapy programs, specific postural and alignment instruction, and comprehensive care plans can mitigate the risk of injury while optimizing performance. Moira McCormack of the Royal Ballet Company highlights the importance of understanding the hypermobile body, emphasizing that with strength, stability, and coordination, athletes can harness their flexibility advantageously.

Lara Bloom, International Executive Director of The Ehlers-Danlos Society, underscores the significance of this awareness campaign: "If instructors and trainers are able to recognize the signs of these conditions, more of these athletes can receive appropriate care, which can reduce injuries, prolong careers, and ease pain."


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