What is a hyperextension injury of the elbow?
Hyperextension of the elbow usually happens because the elbow was suddenly forced back during an activity like gymnastics, football, or martial arts. It can also happen when someone falls with the arms stretched out in front.
In weight-bearing activities like yoga or weight training, extension of the elbow may cause a milder injury over time. The joint is bearing weight that the muscles should be bearing. This can cause the elbow to bend back farther than it should.
These are the symptoms of hyperextension injury of the elbow:
- Pain and a popping sound at the moment of injury
- Pain in the front of your arm near the elbow joint as you straighten your arm right after injury
- Pain when you touch the elbow
- Muscle spasm in the bicep, the muscle in the front of the arm above the elbow joint, right after injury
- Swelling in the elbow joint
- Loss of arm strength
- Numbness in the arm
Diagnosis and Tests
To diagnose your elbow pain, your healthcare provider:
- Will ask you about the injury and look at your arm.
- May recommend imaging tests, such as an an x-ray or MRI of the arm to look for broken bones and damage to the tissue.
Treatments & Prevention
Most elbow hyperextension injuries may be treated at home. Treatments include:
- Cold therapy. Placing ice (wrapped in a cloth or towel) on the injury can help pain and swelling right after the arm is injured. Apply the ice for 20 minutes, then wait 20 minutes, then apply ice again. Repeat this as often as you can during the first week after the injury. Don’t put ice directly on your skin.
- Medicine for pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen may help to reduce pain and swelling. Ask your doctor what the right dose is for you and how long you should take them.
- Compression and elevation. Wrapping an elastic bandage around the joint will help keep the joint from moving and may reduce swelling. The wrap should be firm but no so tight that it hurts or makes your arm numb. If possible, rest your elbow on cushions above the level of your heart during the first few days after the injury.
- Rest and restrict movement. Give your elbow a chance to heal. Avoid sports or any activities that require using that arm for a few days. When you need to get back to your daily routine, use a special elbow brace to keep the elbow joint from bending and moving. Talk to your personal or team doctor before going back to sports activities.
- Physical therapy and exercise. Once your injury has had a chance to heal and you don’t have any more pain, a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor can give you exercises to strengthen the muscles around your elbow and help the ligaments continue to heal.
- Surgery. In some cases, the damage is severe and surgery will be needed to repair the ligaments and other structures in the elbow.