Control movements to prevent hyperextension
For the Appeal
Hyperextension relates to extension beyond the anatomical position of the body. It is a word that is often used in conjunction with exercise and it can spell trouble for those of you in the fitness field. An example would be a back bend in gymnastics or acrobatics. Regular flexion and extension is a movement pair that would be used when you bend over at the waist and rise up. As in flexing over and extending back up, decreasing and then increasing the angle of the movement at the joint, or articulation. So when you hyperextend, you are doing just that, overextending your natural body position relating to the joint.
The locking of the knees backwards when you stand straight, the arching backwards of the back, the tipping back of the head. These are all movements that occur in physical activities. Not necessarily bad, however the thing to remember about hyperextension is that you put your body at a disadvantage when it occurs. Weight is improperly distributed over the skeletal frame and you can over-stress joints and ligaments.
When you watch a gymnast the preparation for a move is extensive, the movement slow and controlled. That is perhaps the key word, control. Even with a smooth controlled movement, if the return to normal anatomical position is not achieved, you may find trouble. I have watched elbows bend backwards during a pushup. The arm does not stop at the full extension, but hyperextended in towards the body; thus, placing stress and weight on the elbow joint. Most of my students with hyperextension of the elbow joints are women and young girls.
Locked knees can cause extra stress and wear on the kneecap, pushing weight forward during weight bearing moves. A slight bend to the knee helps relieve stress and lends a more relaxed stance during standing movements. Stand in front of your mirror and practice the anatomical position of the body. All articulations or joints should be extended, so you stand straight, arms out to the side at the shoulder height and, in theory, your toes would be relaxed and point slightly downward. (Hard to do when you stand on them!)
Try a few of your everyday exercise movements slowly and watch your body respond. Watch for return to normal position, especially during weight bearing movements. Again, it is not the hyperextension of a joint that is bad as much as quick continuous movement with weight. A good stretch movement can be very relaxing when lifted and held and then returned to normal position. Be aware of any discomfort in your joints and adjust your extension movements accordingly.
• Jerry Vance is the owner of Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through the Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Carson City Senior Citizens Center.