Hyperextension is an injury that occurs when a joint is extended beyond its normal range of motion. While commonly referred to as a sports injury, hyperextension can be a result of both athletic and non-athletic activities. It can affect any joint in the body, usually the knees, elbows and wrists, and can range from mild to severe. More severe hyperextension injuries can result in partial or complete tears of tendons and ligaments.
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Tendons and ligaments soft tissues that surround muscles and bones. Ligaments are tissues that connect bones together. They prevent joints from moving in the wrong direction and maintain stability. Tendons connect our bones to our muscles and are responsible for muscle movement. Damage to these tissues from a hyperextension injury can result in joint instability and disrupt muscle function.
If you experience a hyperextension injury, you may hear or feel a “pop,” which occurs when a tendon or ligament tears. Other symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, weakness and instability in the injured joint. When a tendon is torn, the connection it made between the muscle and bone is broken and the muscle can no longer move the bone, impairing movement. A torn ligament reduces stability in the injured area.
Hyperextension injuries can happen to anyone, but they most frequently occur as sports injuries. Skiing, volleyball, basketball, soccer and football are a few common sports where accidents can cause hyperextension. Hyperextension can also be caused by car accidents or repeated trauma to a joint area that causes tearing of tendons and ligaments over time.
The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals recommends the RICE method -- rest, ice, compress, and elevate -- as a treatment for hyperextension injuries. Immobilization of the injured area with a brace or cast will provide support and stability that will allow proper healing and reduce the risk of re-injury. Physical therapy exercises can help heal damage caused by hyperextension by strengthening the joint and improving its stability. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, surgery may be required to repair damaged tendons and ligaments.