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Hyperextended Elbow Injury

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT June 17, 2020 0 Comments

Hyperextended Elbow Pain

A hyperextended elbow happens when a joint is pushed too far, and it can create painful short-term effects and consequential long-term problems. Are you one of the thousands who suffer from this injury per year? Read on to find all the information you need about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and recovery of hyperextended elbow.

Understanding Your Hyperextended Elbow

Your elbow is a complex part of your body. It is made up of three separate joints--the humeroulnar joint, humeroradial joint, and superior (or proximal) radioulnar joint--which are held together with ligaments and supported by tendons, bone, and cartilage.

What is a hyperextended elbow?

When the humeroulnar joint bends backward, out of its normal range of motion, it is considered a hyperextension injury. This can be caused by a variety of traumatic injuries, such as a fall or collision, and can have a major impact on your daily functioning.

Depending on the severity of your hyperextended elbow, short- or long-term damage can be caused to the bone or soft tissue of the joint. While a mild injury can be healed at home with the right tools and knowledge, a more serious injury should be evaluated by a medical professional to prevent long-term problems and rule out more serious issues.

Common Causes of a Hyperextended Elbow

A hyperextended elbow injury can be caused by anything that places traumatic stress on the joint. For older adults, it is most often caused by a fall, where they use their arm to brace against impact. For younger adults, it is most often caused by high impact sports, such as gymnastics, football, or even weight lifting. While such an accident can happen to anybody, several factors can increase an individual’s susceptibility to hyperextension:

  • As We Age

    Our ligaments lose some of their extensibility and become slack, leading to joints that have less innate stability than in their younger years. This lack of joint stability makes the joint more prone to excessive joint range of motion. Protect yourself by implementing a regular strength training regimen to adequately support the joints.

  • Previous Injury

    If you have damaged your arm or elbow in the past, even years ago, you are more at risk for developing future elbow injuries.

  • More Weight Means a Harder Impact During a Fall

    While our joints are surprisingly durable, elbows are not made to support heavy loads and sharp impact. Keep track of your weight, and manage it through a healthy diet and exercise.

  • Hypermobile Tissues

    Some people have more natural flexibility in their bodies than others. Too much flexibility can put the joints at risk without attention to good joint strength and an understanding of how to move with good form.

Naturally Hyperextended Elbows

In rare cases, individuals have elbow joints that are naturally hyperextended. This means that when the forearm is stretched out completely and the joint is locked, the elbow bends slightly farther than the normal 180 degrees.

This condition is not a medical problem, but it can put individuals at greater risk for bone breaks and other injuries in the case of an accident. For those with naturally hyperextended elbows, additional stretches and joint exercises are recommended.

Hyperextended Elbow Symptoms

The first and most obvious symptom of a hyperextended elbow is pain, and for mild cases, this may be the extent of a patient’s suffering. However, more serious cases come with a broader spectrum of problems, and being aware of them early on will make management and recovery much easier.

Here is a comprehensive list of symptoms of hyperextended elbows.

  • Pain, immediately after forced hyperextension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
  • Loss of arm strength or limited mobility
  • Physical deformity
  • Loss of circulation

Diagnosing a Hyperextended Elbow

Knowing what to do for a hyperextended elbow begins with a doctor’s consultation and a professional diagnosis. Medical professionals have access to a wide array of tools, which give greater insight into injuries. With an elbow injury that is affecting your quality of life and arm function, physical therapy will often be recommended. In fact, in most states, you can go directly to a PT without a prescription.

 A professional physical exam is the first step. Your doctor will begin by testing your range of motion, strength, and pain sensitivity when the joint is bent at specific angles. For further insight, an MRI or X-ray may be used to see damage to soft tissue or bone and rule out more serious issues like fractures.

Healing Time

How long does a hyperextended elbow take to heal? Hyperextended elbow recovery time can range from a few days to many weeks, depending on the severity of your injury and your selected treatment path. Most patients experiencing a hyperextended elbow regain full joint mobility after two to three weeks.

In severe cases that have led to unmanageable joint hypermobility with daily activities, surgery may be needed to avoid long-term complications and loss of functionality. However, recovery time after surgery can take several months. Luckily, physical therapy, education, braces, and other prosthetics can make the recovery process much more manageable.

Recovering from a Hyperextended Elbow

Once a joint has been hyperextended, there is a significantly higher risk of future injury. Thus, an in-depth understanding of elbow biomechanics is crucial.  Additionally, the use of a brace or splint with higher impact or more risky activities can greatly minimize the risk of other more severe injuries.

It’s important to use all the tools at your disposal when recovering from a hyperextended elbow. Braces, home treatment, a comprehensive rehab program, and advice from your physician will give you the best chance to recover quickly. Soon you will be back to all the activities you love, pain-free.






Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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