Orthopedics Community
12.6k Members
Avatar universal

Is there long term damage done to contortionists?

You know contortionists who bend their bodies beyond "flexible", are they doing long term damage and if so, what kind of problems will arise?
7 Responses
Avatar universal
Hello Dear,

Contortionists  dont have side effects except for the occasional soreness. doesn't hurt and there are no negative permanent side effects. It is uncomfortable in the beginning, but you feel the discomfort lesser for each time you do the exercises.Rather it has many benefits like-
• you probably will be one of those that won't suffer of osteoarthritis when you get old. Amongst people who are not practicing activities like yoga or contortion, only one in fifty will escape some form of rheumatic or arthritic complaint in their lifetime.
• that when you get old you'll most likely look much younger than most people in your age.
• that medical surveys show that contortionists and yogis not only has a great resistance to every day complaints, pain and disease, but their general health is excellent and they live considerably longer than folks in any other professions.
• that if you suffer from hyper mobility or other health issues like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is a disorder of the connective tissue, you will most likely get results much quicker than a healthy person, but at the same time feel less of the symptoms. If you or other members of your family have suffered from one or many dislocations you’re most likely having similar health issues and should learn to do controlled dislocations and fully master the exercise schedule. How people are built also decides how far it's possible to go or how much, but most can do all of the exercises. Many times it only means that it will take longer to learn to do some things while others come easily. Most important is to practice daily. For me practicing yoga and contortion sport has meant stopping the progress of EDS completely with all of it's symptoms.
• that your strenght will improve
• that your endurance will improve
• that your pain treshold will improve remarcably
• that your range of movement will improve dramatically
• that your memory and concentration will improve
• that this is the most natural and inexpensive way of exercising that exists
Refer http://members.fortunecity.com/tchb1/
Dr. Simran,
I doubt that you will see this as it’s been so long. However, hopefully someone googling this might see this, and understand that the above information you provided is false. One of the world’s leading experts in Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Professor Rodney Grahame said “No other condition in the history of modern medicine, has been neglected in such a way as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome”.
The information above is old, antiquated information that at the time was believed by much of the medical community believed, except those that were truly educated, and leaders in their field for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
Even today many of the myths about Ehlers-Danlos, and other Hypermobility Syndromes you. It is know widely today that those with Ehlers-Danlos Syndome who practice Contortionism, or other high risk behaviors causing subluxations, or dislocations cause damage to the joint each time they cause a subluxation, or dislocation, for example both of these cause micro-tears in the tendons, and ligaments. Repeat abuse of the joints leads to increased subluxations, and dislocations later in life. Just the act of sitting can cause him subluxations, sleeping on ones side with EDS can cause shoulder, hip, elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle subluxations, or dislocations. This repeated abuse in early life with EDS, or HS can more often than not lead to osteoarthritis, severe chronic pain, and other painful side effects from early abuse of the joints. Plainly put, the information you have provided is not only incorrect, but dangerous. I can only hope that should someone land here for information they will realize that what most doctors believed in 2008 when you wrote this was incorrect because s little money goes into research of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and other Hypermobility Syndromes. Coupled with the gross undereducation of EDS, and HS in medical school leaves doctors woefully unprepared in their ability to diagnose EDS (which is grossly under diagnosed), and in an even worse position to educate people about EDS.

Please, if you find yourself being one of those capable of contortionism, or extremely flexible find a local Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Support group in your area to identify a physician capable of proper diagnosis, and care. For more information visit www.ehlers-danlos.com.
Avatar universal
Thank you Dr. Simran for you info.  Wow!  There's hope!
Avatar universal
Hi Dr. Simran,

I have EDS and was told by my specialist at Hopkins not to stretch.  He said I'm already hypermobile and to become even more hypermobile will cause my symptoms to increase (POTS, fatigue, orthostatic intolerance, joint pain, painful trigger points, tendon tears, etc.).  It's interesting to read what you wrote.  Can you explain further?
That's because his information is old, outdated and dangerously wrong.
Avatar universal
My daughter is twelve years old and she is extremely flexible. She wants to go into contortionist training, so I called one school in Newton, Massachusetts. I was told my daughter had to be thirteen, because extreme back bending would damage her back little by little. I told her that she already was doing a chest stand and they told me that she shouldn't be doing any bending forward or backward until her spine is fully developed at the age of thirteen. I would like to know if this is true ? She has been doing splits and exercises since she was about the age of three. She  also holds her hands together and pulls them over her head over her shoulders to her back.
I started contortion when i was like 5 and i have really bad back pain now and I'm 15 but have never stopped and it is way more painful now than it was then so i think might be from doing it from so long
I would check your daughter for ehlers-danlos hypermobility which is a genetic issue and actually she might be a genetic mutation like I was nobody in my family had it literally everyone is healthy. My mom thought it was something normal and dismissed it and put me in gymnastics and it actually worse into my subluxations and my body and by the age 20 through 25 it became so bad I could only work 3 days and I'm now on disability please don't listen to retarded doctors and do what is right for your daughter and I understand that it's hard to shut down somebody's dreams but in the long run you need to do what's best for her and her body
Avatar universal
I have to disagree with Dr Simran - based not only on personal experience but MRI evidence of the Cortionist's spine.

Firstly, those who have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & Hypermobility Joint Syndrome are NOT suitable candidates for Contortionism.  Their connective tissue deficits and ligamentous laxity means their joints are way too unstable to safely get into and out of contortion positions - especially back bending... and to develop the prime mover musculature with appropriate resistance training as well as the agonist muscle groups to be strong enough is near improbable.  I've never seen a well-muscled person with EDS.  

Radiological evidence in the following two (2) Scientific Papers, clearly indicates the permanent & irreversible damage that Contortion - especially if commenced at an early age.

Peoples et al. Whole-spine dynamic magnetic resonance study of contortionists: anatomy & physiology. 2008;8(6):501-509
Orrison & Perkins. Dynamic whole-spine MRI of contortionists. 2009;53(2):493-506

Spinal damage includes:
• Scoliosis to the Thoracic spine - usually of a dextro-concave nature
• Straightening of normal Lordosis - that is loss of the natural curve in BOTH the Cervical & Lumbar spine
• Whole spine Degenerative Intervertebral Disc Disease - leading to Spondylosis, and all types of Listhesis
• Annular tears & Bulges of the Discs - especially in the Cervical & Lumbar spine
• Facet joint arthropathy with foraminal stenosis - Nerve Root Compression
• Damage to the Vertebral Body End Plates with development of Osteophytes (Bone Spurs - Osteoarthritis) that grow into the Spinal Canal (Cervical) or Central Canal (Lumbar), as well as intractable pain from Sinuvertebral Nerve damage - that causes Neuroinflammation and triggers release of inflammatory chemicals resulting in intractable pain.
• Nerve Root Impingement (Radiculitis), Nerve Root damage (Radiculopathy), and progression to Spinal Cord damage (Myelopathy)

• Once damage such as this is advanced (which will develop only after a few years of intense Back-bending training of Contortion in the early years), then the Autonomic Nervous System is affected due to the damage and resultant Neuroinflammation that occurs, as well as the excruciating Pain and Debilitating Disablement that will ensue.  

Think twice about participating in Contortion - especially at a young age, and pushing the boundaries of natural flexibility, in particular back bending, and hyper-extension of the neck.

I practised Contortion - due to natural flexibility and strong musculature from the age of 8-11, taught by an ex-Moscow Olympian, doing full Dance & Acrobats with the possibly for Circus performance back in the 70s.  I then went on to do Gymnastics until the age of 14, but also did Physical Culture dance from Age 4 -17 (deportment style physical performance with little back bending).  I am now in my mid-40s and have long been suffering from ALL the symptoms indicated above, have already had C-spine Decompressive surgery, and am now awaiting the same for my L-spine.  I'm medicated to the back-teeth due to Nerve Damage, Osteoarthritis

Hope this helps.  
Best Regards
I really want to be a contortionist and I'm 12. I have no hypermobility. If you don't recommend starting it now when do you believe it's safe and what should I do before then?
It's not a safe thing to do ever.
Avatar universal
That is in fact, not true. I am 10 years old and have been doing contortion for quite a while. My back has not been destroyed little by little, in fact, my back has felt better, little by little.
The question of damage is not related to you after quite a while at 10 years old. A while is at 35 or 40 years old, when joints weaken naturally. The question is, do contortionists have back pain later on in life, how much, and for what reasons. with 10 years of experience, while your bones are still changing shape to adapt to your movement and possible deforming, it's not the same as asking a 60 year old who did the same as you or even one who was professionally trained.
theres even a different now for me and I'm only 15
LOL you're 10 years old and you think that's just the end of life for you? Wait till you're in your twenties and start coming over here and start telling us about how you feel trust me it will hit you nice and slowly I was a hula hooper and a gym rats of three hours a day and I was working seven days a week. My hyperflexibility has now taken over my life because now I can't even function for 3 days because my joints are popping in and out of place thinking that it's okay to be flexible but it's not, unless you actually have collagen in your body but just being flexible naturally is not a good thing that's something you literally need to get checked out in your lifetime because it could worsen especially when you become 25 through 30 years old it will smack you in the face
Avatar universal
    Contortion is actually a very safe sport. No long term damage is done to contortionists who practice and learn safely. Most normal healthy people can learn contortion safely, except a few people. Some people have conditions such as spinal deformities or EDS that can prevent them from doing contortion safely, and before attempting must get a VERY carefully decided okay from a doctor. If you stretch dangerously or to a extent far past then what you are capable of you will get hurt, as well as if you attempt poses that you are not capable of. But if you know what you are doing, take safety precautions, and use common sense, you should never get anything more than a mild injury. It is very hard for a healthy person with common sense to get hurt doing contortion. Contortion is a very safe, healthful, and enjoyable sport, but if done unsafely can have severe consequences.
Have an Answer?
Didn't find the answer you were looking for?
Ask a question
Popular Resources
Find out if PRP therapy right for you.
Tips for preventing one of the most common types of knee injury.
Tips and moves to ease backaches
How to bounce back fast from an ankle sprain - and stay pain free.
Patellofemoral pain and what to do about it.
A list of national and international resources and hotlines to help connect you to needed health and medical services.