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Contractures are the chronic loss of joint motion due to structural changes in non-bony tissue. These non-bony tissues include muscles, ligaments, and tendons.


Contractures can occur at any joint of the body. This joint dysfunction may be a result of immobilization from injury or disease; nerve injury, such as spinal cord damage and stroke; or muscle, tendon, or ligament disease.

Causes and symptoms

There are a number of pathologies and diseases that can lead to joint contractures. The primary causes resulting in a joint contraction are muscle imbalance, pain, prolonged bed rest, and immobilization. Because of the frequency of fractures and surgery, immobilization is the most frequent cause of joint contractures. Symptoms include a significant loss of motion to any specific joint that results in immobility. If the contracture is of a significant degree, pain can result even without any voluntary joint movement.


Manual testing of joint mobility by a healthcare professional skilled in joint mobilization techniques (e.g., a physical therapist) will identify indications of restricted structures within the joint. Measuring the motion of the joint with a device termed a "goniometer" can be useful if the decrease of motion can be shown to be a proven result of a joint contracture. X rays can be of some benefit in the diagnosis of contractures, because a visible decrease in joint space may indicate a tight, contracted joint. Most physicians will make the diagnosis after a thorough physical examination involving physical and manual testing of the joint motion.


Manual techniques

Joint mobilization and stretching of soft tissues is a common technique used to increase joint elasticity. Structures are stretched in similar directions to those which take place upon normal joint motion. Some healthcare professionals may use some form of heat prior to the stretching and mobilization. If appropriate, exercise may follow manual techniques to help maintain the additional motion achieved.

Mechanical techniques

Devices known as continuous passive motion machines are very popular, especially following surgery of joints. Continuous passive motion machines (CPM) are specifically adjusted to each individual's need. This method is administered within the first 24-72 hours after the injury or surgery. The joint is mechanically moved through the patient's tolerable motion. CPM machines have been proved to accelerate the return motion process, allowing patients more function in less time.

Casting or splinting

Casting or splinting techniques are used to provide a constant stretch to the soft tissues surrounding a joint. It is most effective when used to increase motion of a joint from prolonged immobilization. It is also popular for treating contractures resulting from an increase in muscle tone from nerve injury. After an initial holding cast is applied for seven to 10 days, a series of positional casts are applied at weekly intervals. Before the application of each new cast, the joint is moved as much as can be tolerated by the patient, and measured by a goniometer. When as much motion as possible is obtained after stretching, another final cast is applied to maintain the newly acquired motion.


In some cases, the contracture may be severe and not respond to conservative treatment. In this event, manipulation of the joint under a general anesthesia may be necessary.

Key terms

Mobilization — Making movable, restoring the power of motion in a joint. Movement which increases joint mobility.
Muscle tone — Also termed tonus; the normal state of balanced tension in the tissues of the body, especially the muscles.

Alternative treatment

In some areas of the body, chiropractic techniques have been found to be useful to improve motion. Massage therapy can be beneficial by promoting additional circulation to joint structures, causing better elasticity. Yoga can help prevent as well as rehabilitate a contracture and can facilitate the return of joint mobility.


Prognosis of contractures will depend upon the cause of the contracture. In general, the earlier the treatment for the contracture begins, the better the prognosis.


Prevention of contractures and deformities from spinal cord injury, fracture, and immobilization is achieved through a program of positioning, splinting if appropriate, and range-of-motion exercises either manually or mechanically aided. These activities should be started as early as possible for optimal results.



The American College of Rheumatology. 1800 Century Place, Suite 250, Atlanta, GA 30345. (404) 633-3777.
American Physical Therapy Association. 1111 North Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314. (800) 999-2782.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Non-toxic, immunogenic, teratogenic, carcinogenic, and lack of potential effect on mammography determine its reliability; development of capsular contracture, deflation, palpation and the possibility of folding in the anatomical pouch is determined by its effectiveness.
Aetiology being 5 post burn contracture and 1 post-traumatic scar contracture limited distal to distal palmar crease.
From this, the researchers tracked neurologic symptoms such as seizures, migraine headaches, other headaches, or any other neurologic signs or symptoms; neurologic testing results from those who underwent MRI, CT, and EEG; musculoskeletal symptoms such as arthritis, arthralgias, joint contracture, leg length discrepancy, and other musculoskeletal issues, as well as ophthalmologic manifestations including uveitis and other ophthalmologic symptoms.
"This is the only car we are able to get him [Conor] in and out of at this time due to the contractures in his knees.
Thus, it is expected that diabetic and elderly patients are the most common patients who develop stump contractures, compared to younger amputees.
A total of 23 burn contractures were released via a diamond flap in 23 patients.
(1) Many patients develop complications secondary to the injury, such as fever, (2-4) pressure ulcers (PUs), (2,5,6) joint contractures,2'7'8 and deep venous thrombosis (DVT), (2) which further increase the risk of death and disability.
Our observations indicate that, in young patients with prominent myotonia and accompany symptoms of skeleton and contracture deformities, the genetic sequencing of SCN4A gene is essential for the diagnosis.
A 7-year-old Syrian boy with war-related burn injury was referred to our hospital for reconstructive surgery for burn scars and contractures on his face, neck, and body.
He also reported a contracture in the left ring finger over the last six months.
These advantages include better color and texture match, better functional recovery, lesser incidence of contractures and pigmentation, more durability and resilience to trauma, lesser donor site morbidity and better patient satisfaction9,10.
Draper (2014) reported that pulsed shortwave diathermy warms up a larger surface than ultrasound, which is ideal for treating contractures of major joints [25].