What is elbow hyperextension?

Elbow hyperextension is an injury that usually results from a fall or a direct blow to the elbow that causes the arm to bend backwards, beyond its normal range of motion. Hyperextension is usually very painful and the joint tends to swell and stiffen shortly after the incident. Most cases can be treated at home and do not cause permanent damage to the elbow tissue. However, severe pain and swelling should be evaluated by a doctor to check for serious damage to ligaments, tendons, or bones.

Hyperextension injuries are more common among athletes who play fast-paced contact sports, such as football, soccer, and hockey. When the arm is forced backwards, the ligaments and tendons that connect bone, cartilage, and muscle can be strained or torn. Elbow hyperextension is immediately noticeable in most cases, although a more minor injury may not cause immediately debilitating pain. Over the course of several hours, an injured elbow tends to swell, harden, and turn red. Some people experience numbness due to pressure on nearby nerves and blood vessels.

A person who believes they have suffered a minor hyperextension injury to the elbow can reduce pain and swelling by resting the joint, applying an ice pack, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. It is important to avoid strenuous physical activity for several days after an elbow hyperextension injury to give the joint time to heal. Once the elbow begins to feel better in a week or two, a person can perform light stretching and gripping exercises to regain strength and flexibility. Many people invest in braces or wraps to provide additional support during the recovery phase.

Severe hyperextension of the elbow usually requires a trip to the emergency room. Upon admission to the hospital, a doctor may perform a physical exam, ask about symptoms, and take X-rays of the joint. Diagnostic tests may reveal torn cartilage, ligaments, or tendons. Injuries caused by direct blows can also lead to bone fractures. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, a doctor may decide to inject anti-inflammatory medications into the joint, place the arm in a sling or cast, or consider surgery.

Surgical procedures to repair ligaments or tendons may involve suturing existing tissue together or grafting tissue from another part of the body into the elbow joint. After surgery, an individual typically needs to participate in physical therapy for several months to regain full use of the elbow. Doctors stress the importance of stretching thoroughly and wearing protective gear during sports to help prevent future elbow injuries.

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