joint flexibility is an oft-coveted trait that provides a special advantage to dancers and athletes, but there can be too much of this good thing. a study published last year in the journal frontiers in psychology is among the most recent to confirm the association, finding that people with hypermobile joints have heightened brain activity in anxiety regions. the trait appears to be genetic and is a result of variation in collagen, the main structural protein of connective tissue. “joint hypermobility has an impact on the whole body and not just joints,” says jessica eccles, a psychiatrist and researcher at the university of sussex in england. the investigation began in 1993 and heated up in 1998 when researcher rocío martín-santos, now at the hospital clinic of the university of barcelona, and her colleagues discovered that patients with anxiety were 16 times more likely to have lax joints. a 2012 brain-imaging study conducted by eccles and her colleagues found that individuals with joint hypermobility had a bigger amygdala, a part of the brain that is essential to processing emotion, especially fear.
researchers have also linked the condition with increased consumption of chocolate, tobacco and alcohol—items that are often used in an attempt to self-medicate anxiety. eccles and her colleagues recently found support for this idea in a study of 400 psychiatric patients. they uncovered a simple yet powerful mechanism behind the link: the collagen abnormalities that make joints especially flexible seem to affect blood vessels, making patients prone to an accumulation of blood in the veins of the legs. eccles hypothesizes that these patients might benefit in particular from beta blockers, drugs that ease anxiety by reducing symptoms of the body’s fight-or-flight response. in the meantime, the findings are an important reminder for clinicians to consider the possibility that a patient’s mental disorder could have purely physical origins. her writing has also appeared in the atlantic, women’s health and real simple.
faster heartbeats occur in fear responses controlled by the ‘fight or flight’ nervous system. the experience of anxiety is greater and more frequent in people living with this condition than in the general population. dr jessica eccles can explain this increase in anxiety by the fact that people with hypermobility are more sensitive to bodily feelings, such as changes in sensations like heart rate. jessica will conduct a randomized controlled trial of a new therapy that aims to directly target anxiety in hypermobility. 40 people will be given the new therapy and 40 will be given a more standard treatment for anxiety.
jessica will also invite some of the people on this therapy trial to come for brain scans. hypermobility affects a staggering 20% of the population. this therapy offers the chance to create and test a new anxiety treatment. in a particularly vulnerable group of people offer new insight into the processes that link anxiety to bodily feelings. her main areas of expertise are brain-body interactions, joint hypermobility and liaison psychiatry.
what underlying mechanisms link anxiety and joint hypermobility? interestingly, both anxiety and joint hypermobility syndrome/ehlers-danlos type 3–hypermobile a growing body of research suggests a surprising link between high levels of flexibility and anxiety. a study published last year in the journal the link between hypermobility and anxiety has been recognized for some years, but no specific targeted treatments are available at present., .
individuals with hypermobility are (up to 16 times) overrepresented among those with panic or anxiety disorders. hypermobility is also linked to stress-sensitive psychosomatic disorders including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and is associated with hypersensitivity to nociceptive stimuli. in this short interview, dr jessica eccles explains her the amygdala contributes to emotional processing such as anxiety, fear, and sadness. it is highly responsive to emotional and stressful events. since chronic pain and anxiety are driven by overstimulation of the pain or stress response without compensatory recovery and repair, the link, .
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