Hyperextended Knee: Causes, Treatments & Prevention

Hyperextended Knee: Causes, Treatments & Prevention
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A hyperextended knee is a painful injury where the knee straightens too much and is forced backward. This type of injury often happens to athletes and sports people; however, anyone can suffer from a knee hyperextension injury. A hyperextended knee injury can happen by stopping suddenly when running and the knee is forced back. Or, you could just step off the sidewalk and feel excruciating pain as the knee joint bends the wrong way.

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Depending in the severity of the injury, a hyperextended knee can damage the ligaments, cartilage, and knee joint. This can result in being unstable on your feet for a while and you may also experience swelling and pain.

Knee hyperextension treatment usually involves resting the damaged knee joint and applying treatments to reduce any pain and swelling. If one of the major ligaments in the knee is damaged, for example, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), surgery may be required to repair the knee injury.

This article will help you understand more about knee hyperextension and what you can do to help speed up the healing process of a hyperextended knee injury.

What Causes Hyperextended Knee?

Too much force on the front of the knee can push the knee joint backward causing hyperextension of the knee. There are 4 main ligaments in the knee joint that can be easily damaged by trauma or injury:

  • The medial collateral ligament (MCL)
  • The lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
  • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)

According to Dr. William Blahd on WebMD, hyperextended knee injuries are often caused when an athlete unexpectedly places all of their weight on one leg. For example, a running athlete may stop suddenly and the angle of the leg may force the knee socket back and cause pain and ligament damage. These kinds of knee injuries often happen in people who play soccer, football, basketball, or lacrosse.1

Trauma to the knee can also cause knee hyperextension and damage to the ligaments. So, for example, an object coming into contact with the knee at force can damage the cartilage, tissue, and ligaments, and push the knee backward.

Other reasons for the knee to overextend and damage the ACL (which seems to be the most common type of knee injury) are stepping off a ladder, stepping into a hole, or missing a step when coming down the stairs.

Dr. William Blahd also says that women are up to 8 times more likely than men to suffer a ligament injury in their knee. Some of the reasons for this is that women have wider pelvises, less muscle mass and use the muscles on the thighs for stability. In addition women have a greater range of motion and “looser” knees compared to men.2

Symptoms of Hyperextended Knee

Damage to any ligament, cartilage, or bone will cause pain and possibly localized swelling. If you overextend your knee backward you will usually feel that your knee gives out from under you and you may lose stability.

According to Dr. Benjamin Ma on MedlinePlus, many people who suffer an ACL injury hear a “popping” sound from their knee. This is then followed by pain and possible swelling. You will find that it is difficult to put weight on the injured leg.3

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that, depending on the extent of the injury, you might also lose some range of motion in the knee and experience tenderness along the joint line.4

Dr. Benjamin Wedro on eMedicineHealth warns that even after the knee hyperextension injury has healed, you may still experience symptoms. For example, inflammation and soreness in the joint can occur even after light physical activity. Also, you could experience knee joint pain that comes and goes. So, even simple day-to-day activities like climbing stairs can cause great discomfort even after the initial injury has seemingly healed.5

In extreme knee injuries, the cartilage can become torn and not allow the knee to completely straighten.

How to Treat Hyperextension of the Knee

If you have suffered a hyperextended knee injury, it is important to treat it properly to speed up the healing process. Usually, doctors recommend complete rest of the damaged knee joint to prevent further injury that could result in permanent damage.

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RICE to Treat Hyperextended Knee

Dr. Sean Colio on Sports-Health.com says that treatment for knee joint injuries depends on the extent of the damage. However, in most cases, the first line of treatment involves the R.I.C.E. method. RICE stands for Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevating the knee.6

How to use:

To use the RICE method for hyperextended knee injuries, this is what you should do:

  • It’s important to stop all physical activity and rest the injured knee to prevent further damage to the ACL or other ligaments.
  • Apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling and inflammation in the knee joint. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply to the knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Repeat at least 3 times a day for up to 72 hours.
  • Use a compression bandage to support your knee and help the ligaments heal properly. Make sure that the bandage isn’t too tight.
  • As much as possible, keep your leg elevated so that your knee is above your heart. This helps to reduce blood flow to the damaged knee and minimize swelling.

After 72 hours, doctors from WebMD recommend using a heat pack to the painful knee joint. This will help to increase blood flow and help the knee heal quicker.7

Turmeric for joint pain

To help speed up the healing time and reduce pain in a damaged knee joint, you can apply a turmeric paste. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that can help to reduce swelling and pain in painful knee joints.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported on the results of the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin (the main component of turmeric). They found that curcumin has anti-inflammatory activity and is used topically and orally to reduce inflammation.8

How to use:

You can use a turmeric paste to help boost the healing process while your hyperextended knee is recovering. This should be used in conjunction with resting and heat treatments. This is what you should do:

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  • Mix 2 tablespoons turmeric powder with one tablespoon coconut oil to make a thick paste.
  • Apply the turmeric remedy to the damaged knee joint and cover with a plastic wrap.
  • Cover with a heated pad and leave on for 20-30 minutes.
  • Use 1-2 times a day until inflammation and pain have gone completely from your injured knee joint.

Remember that turmeric can easily stain clothing, so take care when applying and removing the turmeric wrap.

Alternatively, you can take turmeric extract supplements to help reduce joint inflammation, but always consult with your doctor before taking any natural supplement. For more advice on using turmeric, please read my article on the best natural herbs for joint pain relief.

Many people have also found that making a cayenne oil warming pad at home can help to relieve discomfort in painful joints.

Essential oils to reduce pain and inflammation

There are also many great essential oils that can help to get rid of joint pain quickly and you can find them in my article about the top 20 essential oils to relieve pain and inflammation.

For example: Chamomile, lavender, clary sage and frankincense essential oils are soothing and help to control muscle spasms and have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Rosemary and peppermint essential oils also have antispasmodic properties and improve blood circulation. Other good essential oils are ginger and yarrow essential oils that have anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.

For massaging your knee area you can use any of these oils on their own, or you can blend two or more essential oils together. The essential oils need to be blended first with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil or olive oil. Use about 10-12 drops of essential oil per 1 ounce (30 ml) of carrier oil and massage this oil blend into the painful knee.

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Knee Hyperextension – Recovery Time

Hyperextension of the ligaments in the knee can cause mild to extensive damage depending on the cause and severity of the injury. In very mild cases, the recovery time for a hyperextended knee injury can be very quick and may not affect your daily activities at all.

According to the Knee Clinic, recovery from a less severe knee injury may take between 4 to 6 weeks and require a compression bandage to support the knee. During this time, you should limit physical activity and avoid putting extra pressure on the damaged knee joint.9

If one or more of the knee ligaments have suffered slight tears, recovery time may take up to 3 months before a full range of movement is felt in the knee. Sometimes, doctors may recommend the use of crutches to prevent further damage to the knee while it is recovering from the overextension injury.

In cases of a complete ligament tear, surgery may be required. According to doctors from the National Health Service (NHS), return to normal activities, including playing sports may take around 6 months. However, after 2-6 week from the injury, you should be able to walk properly and fully extend and bend your knee.10

How to Prevent Hyperextended Knee

In many cases, damage to your ACL or other knee ligaments can be avoided, especially in cases of “non-contact” injuries. Knee hyperextension prevention usually requires strengthening your core muscles and increasing hip and knee flexibility.

The journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine reported that prevention programs for athletes involve learning how to control the upper body and developing better muscular strength. It’s also important to learn how to position the body during physical activity to limit knee overextension.11  

Also, the journal Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy found that stretching, strengthening the core and trunk muscles, and developing better balance are all effective ways to prevent hyperextended knee damage.12

If a person is prone to their knee extending backward, then doctors may recommend a knee brace to prevent damage to the ACL. The journal Sports Medicine reported that knee braces are effective for people with weak knee ligaments.13  

When to Call a Doctor

In most cases, an injury to the knee caused by hyperextension or overextension doesn’t require anything more than home care to recover. However, in cases of severe trauma, Dr. Benjamin Wedro on eMedicineHealth recommends seeking medical advice for knee trauma in these circumstances:

  • Your knee swells almost immediately.
  • The pain in intolerable and you can’t put any weight on it.
  • You lose feeling in your lower leg and your foot and ankle turn cold.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. WebMD. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
  2. WebMD. Women and ACL injuries.
  3. MedlinePlus. Anterior cruciate ligament injury.
  4. OrthoInfo. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
  5. eMedicineHealth. Knee injury.
  6. Sports-Health. Treatment of knee hyperextension.
  7. WebMD. RICE – topic overview.
  8. J Altern Complement Med. 2003 Feb;9(1):161-8.
  9. KneeClinic. Ligament injuries.
  10. NHS. Knee ligament surgery – recovery.
  11. Phys Sportsmed. 2009 Oct;37(3):49-61.
  12. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2009 Aug;17(8):859-79.
  13. Sports Med. 2009;39(11):937-60.
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