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Contractures
(Contracture Deformity)

Definition:
Contractures refer to the permanent tightening of non-bony tissues, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, or skin. The result is a loss of motion in the affected joints.

Causes:
Contractures may be caused by abnormalities of the structures surrounding a joint. These include:
  • Deformity
  • Immobility
  • Injury
  • Chronic inflammation

Certain disorders that affect nerves and muscles almost always lead to contractures. For example:

  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Cerebral palsy

Contractures are also associated with spasticity. This is a condition in which muscles over-tighten when stretched.

Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition.

Each of these conditions increases the risk for contractures:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tenosynovitis (inflammation of a tendon and its sheath)
  • Polio and other diseases of nerves and muscles
  • Trauma
  • Burns
  • Scarring
  • Prolonged inactivity
Symptoms:
The primary symptom is loss of motion in a joint.

Diagnosis:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your joints will be examined for restricted movement and range of motion. X-rays may be taken as well.

Treatment:
Treatment includes:

Physical Therapy – Physical therapy helps to increase mobility, joint elasticity, and muscle strength. Some people also benefit from therapeutic massage.

Casts or Splints – Casts or splints help stretch the soft tissues surrounding the affected joint and can keep them in a more functional position. This method is often used when contractures are caused by nerve injury or immobility. Casts need to be changed regularly to reassess the joint position and avoid skin breakdown.

Nerve Blocks and Electrical Stimulation – In cases of severe spasticity, nerves to the affected muscles can be temporarily numbed with anesthesics. Alternatively, opposing muscles can be electrically stimulated. These actions can change the balance of forces across a joint. This therapy is often done with casting.

Surgery – Surgery may be necessary to release affected tendons, ligaments, and joints. This may be done for severe cases or for contractures unresponsive to other treatments.

Prevention:
Prevention of contractures depends on the cause. After acute injuries or orthopedic surgery, contractures may be prevented by:
  • Early movement
  • Physical therapy
  • Continuous passive motion (CPM) machines, which mechanically keep joints in motion

Aggressive medical treatment of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis may also delay or prevent contractures.

 
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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