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Contracture deformity

Definition

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, and joint areas. They affect range of motion and function in a certain body part. There is usually also pain.

Alternative Names

Deformity - contracture

Causes

Contracture can be caused by any of the following:

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 health care 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.

References

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: Saunders Elsevier; 2014:chap 126.

Skalsky AJ, McDonald CM. Prevention and management of limb contractures in neuromuscular diseases. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2012;23:675-687.

Tufaro PA, Bondoc SL. Therapist's movement of the burned hand. In: Skirven TM, Osterman AL, Fedorczyk J, Amadio P, eds. Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 26.

Review Date:9/8/2014
Reviewed By:C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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