A contracture develops when the normally stretchy (elastic) tissues are replaced by nonstretchy (inelastic) fiber-like tissue. This tissue makes it hard to stretch the area and prevents normal movement.
Contractures mostly occur in the skin, the tissues underneath, and the muscles, tendons, ligaments surrounding a joint. They affect range of motion and function in a certain body part. Often, there is also pain.
Deformity - contracture
Contracture can be caused by any of the following:
- Brain and nervous system disorders, such as cerebral palsy or stroke
- Inherited disorders (such as muscular dystrophy)
- Nerve damage
- Reduced use (for example, from lack of mobility)
- Scarring after traumatic injury or burns
Follow your health care provider's instructions for treating contracture at home. Treatments may include:
- Doing exercises and stretches
- Using braces and splints
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
- A contracture seems to be developing.
- You notice a decreased ability to move a joint.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Depending on the cause and type of contracture, you may need tests such as an x-ray.
Physical therapy, medicines, orthopedic braces, or surgery may be helpful for some types of contractures.
Campbell M, Dudek N, Trudel G. Joint contractures. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 126.
Skalsky AJ, McDonald CM. Prevention and management of limb contractures in neuromuscular diseases. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2012;23(3):675-687. PMID: 22938881 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22938881.