What is a Hyperextension Injury?

Joints in the human body normally have a fixed range of motion that involves both flexion (for example, folding your arm to your shoulder to create a zero-degree angle at the elbow) and extension (extending your arm out straight to create a 180-degree angle at the elbow). The same type of range of motion exists for the knee, and wider ranges of motion exist for ball-and-socket joints such as the hip and the shoulder, which can pivot in more directions than just forward and backward.

A hyperextension injury occurs when a joint is moved past its normal angle of extension. For example, this may happen to the elbow during sports, often when "punching air" or practicing one's swing in tennis. The injury known as "tennis elbow" is, in fact, a form of hyperextension injury. The same thing can happen to the knee if a kicking motion extends the lower leg too far, past the 180-degree angle of its normal range of motion.

When hyperextension occurs, damage may occur to the soft tissues surrounding the joint, including the muscles, ligaments, and cervical discs. For example, the neck can be hyperextended in a whiplash injury. The result can include pain, swelling, and muscle spasms as well as a reduced or limited range of motion in the affected joint and loss of strength.

The severity of these symptoms varies widely depending on the joint affected and the strength of the force that caused the hyperextension. In many cases—especially with minor sports injuries—the hyperextension injury is initially treated by icing the area, followed by rest and immobilization. Healing occurs normally within a few weeks. However, in about 20% of cases, the weakness, loss of flexibility, and pain of more severe hyperextension injuries can last for months and can become incapacitating. Whiplash injuries in particular can often lead to chronic neck pain, headaches, fatigue, shoulder and upper back pain, cognitive changes, and lower back pain.

In such cases, chiropractic treatment has been proven effective not only in reducing the pain of the injury, but in facilitating healing and restoring the full range of motion to the injured joint. Spinal or joint manipulation can restore the normal positioning of affected joints or vertebrae, especially when combined with massage therapy, electro-stimulation, trigger-point therapy, rehabilitative exercise, and other soft tissue rehabilitation therapies. Medications can also be used to control pain and reduce inflammation. However, no medication can restore normal joint movement and stimulate healthy soft tissue repair.

So if you have sustained a hyperextension injury and the effects of it have not gone away in a couple of weeks, consider contacting your chiropractor. As experts in treating musculoskeletal injuries, chiropractic physicians are specially trained to diagnose the injury and prescribe therapies that can both reduce the pain you're experiencing and restore the affected joint to its normal flexibility and range of motion.