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Contracture deformity

Deformity - contracture

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.

Causes

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)
  • Severe muscle and bone injuries
  • Scarring after traumatic injury or burns

Home Care

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

The provider will ask about your symptoms. Questions may include, when the symptoms began, whether or not you have pain in the affected area, and what treatments you've had in the past.

Depending on the cause and type of contracture, you may need tests such as an x-ray.

Treatment may include physical therapy, medicines, and orthopedic braces. Surgery may be helpful for some types of contractures.

References

Campbell M, Dudek N, Trudel G. Joint contractures. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 126.

Miller RH, Azar FM, Throckmorton TW. Shoulder and elbow injuries. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 46.

    • Contracture deformity

      Contracture deformity - illustration

      A contracture is a fixed tightening of muscle, tendons, ligaments, or skin. It prevents normal movement of the associated body part. An injury such as a severe burn can cause contracture of the skin. The skin becomes scarred and nonelastic which limits the range of movement of the affected area.

      Contracture deformity

      illustration

      • Contracture deformity

        Contracture deformity - illustration

        A contracture is a fixed tightening of muscle, tendons, ligaments, or skin. It prevents normal movement of the associated body part. An injury such as a severe burn can cause contracture of the skin. The skin becomes scarred and nonelastic which limits the range of movement of the affected area.

        Contracture deformity

        illustration

      Review Date: 8/15/2018

      Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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