Contractures


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Contractures

 

Definition

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.

Description

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.

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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.

Surgery

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

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

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.

Resources

Organizations

The American College of Rheumatology. 1800 Century Place, Suite 250, Atlanta, GA 30345. (404) 633-3777. http://www.rheumatology.org.
American Physical Therapy Association. 1111 North Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA 22314. (800) 999-2782. https://www.apta.org.
References in periodicals archive ?
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 Comparison between Plantar Skin Grafts and Split Thickness Ordinary Skin Grafts in the Management of Post Burn Flexion Contractures of Hand.
Contractures due to extrinsic causes and lasting less than a year, have a better prognosis and response to physical therapy [11].
Connective tissue disorders might result in AMC by restoring the lost muscle mass by forming collagen, which thickens at the region of joint capsule and causes joint fixation consequently causing decreased fetal movements and contractures.
A physical examination showed multiple bilateral deformities of the fingers bilateral Dupuytren's disease bilateral contracture of the thumb web and plantar fascia scar formation on both arms poor grip and pinch strength in both hands and limited activity of multiple fingers due to joints stiffness and contractures.
According to them, it is characterized by increased thoracic kyphosis of the spine, accompanied by a shortening of the pectoral muscles and lumbar lordosis depth with contracture of the iliopsoas muscles.
Surgical release of post-traumatic flexion contracture of the elbow via a limited lateral approach is a safe technique, which reliably improves extension especially for extrinsic contractures.
Anaesthetic management of post-burn contractures, a recurrent challenge from oil pipeline vandalization in Nigeria: A case report.
Flexion Contractures were present in small joints of hands and feet bilaterally.
It is characterized by papular and nodular skin lesions, gingival hyperplasia, joint contractures and bone involvement in variable degrees 1.
Third, contractures are an understudied measure of nursing home quality that have not received as much attention as other quality measures (Wagner and Clevenger 2010).