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Archive for October 20th, 2012

Hyperextension helps to stabilize an unstable knee, but can cause pain and disability over time.

Knee instability occurs when the thigh and shin bones are held together too loosely.  It is usually caused by weak muscles and lax ligaments.  In many cases, the ligaments are loosened because of forces that occur when knee musculature is weak.  One common example is the relationship between weak knee extensors (the quadriceps) and hyperextension of the knee.

If the quadriceps are weak, the knee will have a tendency to buckle under body weight.  The body tries to reduce the risk of falling by forcefully hyperextending the knee.  This promotes knee stability, since the knee is very secure in full extension.  However, over a long period of time, this repeated and excessive extension stretches the ligaments and tendons along the back of the knee.  This allows the knee to hyperextend farther and farther over time until the hyperextension may be a more severe problem than the quadriceps weakness that it solved.

Hyperextension can lead to severe knee pain.  It causes stretch injuries to the back of the knee, and compression injuries the front.  The anterior compression can make osteoarthritis of the knee much worse.  It can speed up the breakdown of cartilage, and lead to inflammation and joint pain.

The most direct and least invasive treatment for instability of the knee is with a knee brace.  It can also be treated surgically, and many of the associated symptoms may be treated with drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like Tylenol.  If you suffer from knee pain caused by hyperextension and instability, talk to your doctor about bracing options that may be right for you.