What to Know About a Hyperextended Elbow

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on July 21, 2023
3 min read

‌A hyperextended elbow occurs when your elbow joint bends backward more than it should. This condition mostly happens in individuals involved in weight-bearing activities or contact sports.

This type of injury may occur in anyone during strenuous physical activity. However, the condition is more common among people who engage in:

  • Football
  • Martial Art
  • Gymnastics
  • Yoga
  • Weight training

Toddlers may also get an extended elbow because their bones aren't fully developed. It can occur when they:

  • Break a fall using their hands
  • Roll over in their crib to an awkward position
  • Swing or pull hard on something by their hand
  • When their arm gets jerked

Symptoms depending on the severity of an elbow injury may include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness on the elbow joint
  • Elbow deformity
  • Redness
  • Numbness due to constricted nerves
  • Discoloration and blotchy skin on the injured area
  • Pain
  • Weakness of the joint
  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of elbow and arm strength

When severe hyperextension happens, it may cause damage to the surrounding muscles, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments. This injury is immediately noticeable due to pain. In some minor hyperextension injuries, pain may develop later.

If you suspect you have this injury, you should seek immediate medical attention.

In the hospital, your doctor may suggest performing X-ray tests. The test identifies if the damage has affected the surrounding bones and detects a fracture.

The doctor may also suggest performing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and a Computed Tomography (CT) scan. The scans may help in determining the type of tissue damage that's occurred. It also helps to choose the best method of treatment for the injury.

Most cases of hyperextension may be treatable at home and do not cause permanent damage. There are two ways to manage this condition, non-surgical and surgical treatment.

Non-surgical treatment. For a minor elbow injury, consider using the RICE method:

  • Rest. Stop any stressful activity and immobilize the arm to avoid further damage.
  • Ice. Apply ice on the injured arm to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Compression. Apply moderate pressure on the injured area using wraps to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation. Raise the injured arm above your heart level. It helps to reduce pain, swelling, and throbbing sensations.

Also, your doctor may prescribe some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

Surgical treatment. In the case of severe injury, you may suffer from torn ligaments and muscles, and nerve damage. Your doctor may suggest urgent surgery to restore the damaged tissue and fix your joint stability issue. You may get one of these two surgery options: open elbow surgery or arthroscopic elbow surgery.

  • Open elbow surgery involves a large incision on the elbow to remove damaged tendon parts and to reattach them.
  • Arthroscopic elbow surgery involves less intrusive methods. It uses a tiny camera to identify and remove tendons on the affected area.

Healing from elbow surgery may take several weeks to months. During this time, your arm may be confined to a sling to immobilize the elbow. Slings help in the recovery process.

During your healing process, try to incorporate physical therapy into your routine. It helps to strengthen the muscles around your elbow and improves the healing of ligaments.

Injuries may be challenging to prevent. In most cases, they happen accidentally. If you engage in sports and weight training, learn proper form and technique to use in your activities. Also, consider using a brace or support sleeve during exercises to reduce the chances of injury.

People who suffer from recurring hyperextension elbow conditions should take precautions to prevent repeated injuries as they can alter bone and joint structure.