What Is Overextension?
Summit physical therapist Teresa Werth, PT, DPT, OCS, explains overextension — what it is, when it’s OK, and when it becomes a problem.
Our joints are designed to flex and bend, allowing us to move easily. Every time we stand on tiptoe, bend over to grab an item from the bottom shelf, or look over our shoulders as we back the car down the drive, we can thank our joints. Our joints generally have a defined range of motion, within which they can move comfortably. But what happens if that joint is overextended? What is overextension, and is it a problem? Read on to find out.
The correct term for overextension is actually hyperextension. You may also know it colloquially as “being double-jointed.” Hyperextension happens when you straighten a joint and then push it beyond straight, so it is bending slightly in the other direction.
What is hyperextension, and is it a problem?
“For example, when your knee is stretched out and your leg is completely straight, we call that 0 degrees,” said Teresa Werth, PT, DPT, OCS, one of Summit’s expert physical therapists. “If you push that knee past 0 degrees, it will be bending backward instead of forward. That’s hyperextension.”
Hyperextension is more common in women than in men, and it’s most common among teenage girls. Although many joints can be affected, knees and elbows are common. Hyperextension can also happen in the spine, but it’s harder to identify, since our spines need to be able to bend and extend.
A little bit of hyperextension is generally not a problem — especially if you don’t do it on purpose. But if you’re doing it a lot, either because you can’t help it or because you like to freak your friends out, it can become an issue.
“A lot of hyperextension can be a problem. You’re putting incredibly high stress on the ligaments to hold that elbow or knee in place,” Werth said. Continuing to push that joint into hyperextension can make it even worse.
Hyperextension can also make people more prone to injury, particularly athletes. “If you are playing sports and land in that hyperextended position, you’re more prone to tear or sprain a ligament,” Werth said.
Athletes who depend on their ability to arch their back, like dancers, gymnasts, acrobats, and divers, can injure the spine and damage hip ligaments over time by hyperextending.
What can you do if you have hyperextension in a joint?
You may lose some of that extra mobility in your joint as you get older. In the meantime, it’s important to develop muscle strength. “Stronger muscles around the joint will stabilize the joint,” Werth said.
Make sure that you’re not slipping into hyperextension without knowing it. For example, when you’re standing for a long time, make sure your knees are not locked. You want them to be slightly bent — forward, that is!
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Community health flourishes when specialized orthopedic care is conveniently available close to home. Summit Orthopedics is proud of our fellowship-trained subspecialty teams offering the full spectrum of orthopedic expertise in bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, and joint conditions—in addition to our wellness, prevention, and rehabilitation services. We have the expertise to proactively improve fitness, evaluate discomfort, and deliver personalized treatment to quickly and safely return you to the lifestyle you love.
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Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.
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