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Contracture deformity

Definition

A contracture is a tightening of muscle, tendons, ligaments, or skin that prevents normal movement.

See also:

Alternative Names

Deformity - contracture

Considerations

A contracture develops when the normally elastic (stretchy) connective tissues are replaced by inelastic (nonstretchy) fiber-like tissue. This makes it hard to stretch the area and prevents normal movement.

Contractures occur primarily in the skin, underlying tissues, muscle, tendons, and joint areas. The most common causes are scarring and lack of use (due to immobilization or inactivity).

Common Causes

  • Inherited disorders (such as muscular dystrophy)
  • Injury (including burns)
  • Nerve damage
  • Reduced use (for example, from immobilization)

Home Care

Home care continues the care that the health care provider prescribes. For example, physical therapy exercises must be continued at home.

Call your health care provider if

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 health care provider's office

Your health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your tightness or limited movement, such as:

  • When did it start?
  • How would you describe it? Where is it located? How bad is it?
  • How much movement is there?
  • What other symptoms are also present?

Depending on the cause and type of contracture, diagnostic testing (such as an x-ray) may be necessary.

Physical therapy, orthopedic braces, or surgery may be helpful for some types of contractures.

References

Vanderhoff BT, Carroll W. Neurology. In: Rakel P, Bope ET, eds. Conn’s Current Therapy 2007. 60th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 54.

Calandruccio JH. Dupuytren contracture. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 72.

Jobe MT. Compartment syndromes and Volkmann contracture. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 71.

Warner WC. Neuromuscular disorders. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 32.

Sawyer JR. Cerebral palsy. In: Canale ST, Beatty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 30.


Review Date: 8/3/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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