“Ouch.” That’s probably your first reaction to an injury that involves the hyperextension of a joint.
Pain is your body’s immediate reaction to an injury that causes one of your joints to bend in the wrong direction. Other than the initial pain, you may also experience swelling and bruising, and it may hurt if you move or touch the injured joint.
These injuries can occur in many parts of your body, and they can range from mild to severe. Mild injuries can heal quickly, but you do need to tend to them. More serious injuries may require the care of a physician and more intensive treatment.
This article will take a closer look at the most common types of hyperextension injuries, as well as treatment options and ways to prevent these injuries.
Range of motion is how far a joint can move in each direction before it stops, and every joint in your body has its own normal range of motion. The two basic ranges of motion for most joints are flexion (bending) and extension (straightening).
Hyperextension means that there’s been excessive movement of a joint in one direction (straightening). In other words, the joint has been forced to move beyond its normal range of motion.
When this happens, the tissues around the joint can become damaged. In more severe cases, the ligaments that normally provide stability to the joint can stretch or tear. This can make the joint unstable and increase the risk of dislocation or other injuries.
A hyperextension injury can happen to many of the joints in your body. However, some joints, like those listed below, are more prone to these injuries than others.
This type of injury occurs when the knee is forcefully bent backward, beyond fully straight. In other words, it’s forced in the opposite direction of how it normally bends.
When this happens, it may damage the ligaments that provide stability to the knee. A hyperextension injury of the knee can cause pain and swelling.
Hyperextension of the elbow occurs when your elbow joint bends too far backward, beyond being fully straight.
After such an injury, you may need to keep your elbow immobilized for some time to make sure it heals correctly and to ensure that you don’t lose stability in the joint.
Have you ever sprained a finger trying to catch a ball? If so, you no doubt know what the pain feels like when your finger joint bends in the wrong direction.
With a minor injury, the ligaments might get a little stretched. However, with a more severe injury, the ligaments and tissues that help stabilize the joint can tear and may require more intensive treatment.
You may know a hyperextension injury of the neck by another more common name: whiplash. The most obvious example of whiplash is when you’re in a car accident and the impact makes your neck snap forward then suddenly backward.
You may have pain and stiffness for several days or even weeks after this type of injury. However, most people recover completely without any long-term consequences.
Your shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in your body, but it’s also one of the most unstable. This can make your shoulder more prone to injury.
Hyperextension and instability of the shoulder can occur when the shoulder joint is over-rotated due to repetitive motions. These motions are common in certain sports, such as swimming, baseball, and javelin throwing.
Shoulder hyperextension injuries can also occur following trauma such as a fall.
When the ligaments that support your ankle stretch too far, you can sprain or hyperextend your ankle. It’s important to make sure it heals correctly so you don’t lose stability and range of motion.
Common symptoms of a hyperextension injury include:
- hearing and/or feeling a popping or cracking sound
- pain when you touch the affected joint
- pain when you try to move the joint
- swelling and sometimes noticeable bruising of the tissues around the joint
Some other symptoms will be more specific to the joint. For example, if you hyperextend your knee or your ankle, you may have trouble putting weight on it or walking afterward.
If you hyperextend your elbow, you may notice some muscle spasms in your bicep muscle or even some numbness in your arm.
Just about anyone can hyperextend a joint, but some people are at a higher risk of these types of injuries. Here are some factors that may increase your risk:
- Sports. If you regularly play sports, your joints may be more prone to hyperextension injuries. For example, contact sports and sports that require fast, frequent directional changes like basketball and soccer can put your knees and ankles at risk. Sports like weightlifting, tennis, or gymnastics might increase your risk of elbow and wrist hyperextension. Throwing a ball may make you more prone to a shoulder injury.
- Previous injuries. If you’ve injured a joint before, you’re at greater risk for another injury. A physical therapist can help you learn ways to strengthen an injured joint and lower your risk of hurting it again.
- Muscle weakness. You may also be at risk for hyperextending your knee if you have muscle weakness in your leg. Without strong muscles to support your knee joint, it can become unstable and more vulnerable.
If you happen to overextend one of your joints and the pain isn’t too severe, there are steps you can take to help ease the symptoms at home.
One of the best ways to treat a hyperextension injury is to use the RICE technique. This is an acronym that’s used by many athletic trainers and athletes to remember how to care for muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint injuries.
RICE stands for:
- Rest. Although you don’t want to stop moving completely, go easy on your injured joint. Rest it for a day or two, then try to gradually start using it.
- Ice. Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes every hour for the first few days after you get injured. Don’t put ice directly on your skin. Instead, wrap a moist towel around the cold compress or ice pack before applying it to the injured area.
- Compression. A compression sock or sleeve can help bring swelling down. If you don’t have a compression sock or sleeve, an elastic bandage gently wrapped around the joint can be used instead.
- Elevation. If possible, elevate the affected joint to a level above your heart to help minimize swelling. This works best for knees and ankles.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help relieve pain and swelling.
If your hyperextended joint causes mild pain or swelling, you may be able to treat the injury at home with the self-care measures as described above. However, if the pain, swelling, or bruising is more severe, it’s a good idea to call your doctor.
Your doctor will want to perform a physical examination and examine the injured joint as well as the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They may also order a set of X-rays to help confirm the diagnosis.
If you don’t have any other injuries, your doctor may suggest some self-care measures that you can do at home.
Seek medical attention immediately if a bone is protruding through your skin or if your joint looks twisted or deformed. These types of severe injuries often require more significant treatment, including surgery.
A hyperextension injury to the neck can be mild, but there’s also the potential for damage to the spinal column. As a general rule, it’s always a good idea to seek medical attention for any type of neck injury.
It’s all too easy to say, “I’ll just be careful.” Sometimes that works, but sometimes you need to be more proactive to minimize your risk of a hyperextension injury.
Here are some other steps you can take to reduce your risk:
- Wear a brace on your knee, elbow, or ankle to give your joint some additional support, especially if you’ve had a hyperextension injury in the past.
- Try doing strength-building exercises to build up the muscles that support a weak or unstable joint. Ask your doctor or physical therapist to recommend exercises that you can do on your own.
- Avoid playing sports or engaging in physical activities that tend to increase your risk of hyperextending a joint. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about activities that may be safer for you to do.
Hyperextension injuries happen when a joint is forced to move beyond its normal range of motion. These injuries can occur in many parts of your body, although your knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders, neck, and fingers are most susceptible.
Minor hyperextension injuries can usually heal with self-care measures. More severe injuries that involve severe pain, swelling, bruising, or deformity of the joint may require medical attention, physical therapy, or even surgery for proper healing.