So there is this new show on The History Channel called Stan Lee’s Superhumans. They find people who are able to do things that “normal” people can’t, and they set out to find out why that person can do what they do. Stan himself eschews the travel to do the introductions in his super cool studio and leaves the travel and interviewing to Daniel Browning Smith – also known as the world’s most flexible man. He holds a bunch of world records for his flexibility (including the Guinness World Record) and trained with Master Lu Yi to learn how to do Chinese acrobatics. That talent, combined with his amazing flexibility, makes Browning Smith a Superhuman that finds other Superhumans.
How is he able to do that? How do contortionists make their bodies do that? Are they double-jointed? What is “double-jointed,” anyway? Lucky for you folks, I went ahead and looked all that up for you, along with a few other tidbits to keep you thrilled and entertained.
If you search “double jointed” you’re likely to come up with the term “hypermobility.” So no, being double-jointed doesn’t mean that you have two joints where you have one joint, making you able to bend the joint either way. It means that your joints are hypermobile, they are able to stretch much farther and in different directions than normal joints.
What makes a joint hypermobile? Sometimes the ends of the bones are shaped differently, making them behave in the joint differently. Other times, there is a collagen or connective tissue issue that allows the bones to move in the joints differently. Hypermobility might be genetic, as it tends to run in families. Sometimes the condition is simply a hypermobility of joints with no other health concerns, but other times the condition is a symptom of a larger health condition. There are a number of diseases that have hypermobility as a symptom, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (strange, huh?) and Down syndrome, among many others.
Even if one of the diseases is absent, people with hypermobility are more susceptible to fibromyalgia and joint pain, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome. Other people live healthy and happy lives, and go on to use their hypermobility to make a living and to amaze and astonish.
Somebody call the chiropractor!
Not all contortionists are hypermobile, as the human muscles can be trained to be extremely flexible, but the most flexible contortionists are hypermobile. They either have a connective tissue issue or interestingly shaped bones. Some sources separate contortionists into frontbenders or backbenders, noting that most contortionists have greater ease bending one way or the other.
The cool thing about Browning Smith is that he’s a both bender. He can bend his body every which way and is super flexible in almost every direction. He’s the most famous contortionist in the world, and a charming co-host on one of the coolest current TV programs.