A contracture deformity is the result of stiffness or constriction in the connective
tissues of your body. This can occur in your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and
skin. You can also experience a contracture deformity in your joint capsules.
This is the dense fibrous connective tissue that stabilizes the joint —
and adjoining bones — at the deepest, most internal level.
Contracture deformity restricts normal movement. It develops when your usually
pliable connective tissues become less flexible. This means that your range of
motion will be limited. You may have difficulty:
- moving your hands
- stretching your legs
- straightening your fingers
- extending another part of your body
Contractures can occur in different parts of your body, such as:
- Muscles: A muscle contracture involves the
shortening and tightening of the muscles.
- Joints: If there is contracture in the joint capsule
where two or more bones connect, you will experience limited range of motion in
that area of your body.
- Skin: Skin may contract where it has been
scarred a burn or from past surgery. This will limit your ability to move that
part of your body.
of contracture deformity
The main symptom of contracture deformity is reduced ability to move an area
of your body. You might also have pain, depending on the location and cause of
Common causes of contracture deformity
The most common causes of contracture are inactivity and scarring from an
injury or burn. People who have other conditions that keep them from moving
around are at high risk for contracture
deformity. That’s because the muscles and joints they aren’t moving
through their normal range of motion are prime candidates for tightening.
For example, joint contractures are common in patients discharged from
intensive care units or after long hospital stays. Other causes include
diseases that are inherited or that develop in early childhood, such as:
- Muscular dystrophy: People with this disease
often experience muscle tightness because significantly weak muscles impair
their ability to move.
- Cerebral palsy: This disease causes muscle
tightness and limits movement.
- Central nervous system diseases: These includes
polio, multiple sclerosis (MS), or Parkinson’s disease.
- Inflammatory diseases: Having rheumatoid
arthritis (RA) puts you more at risk for contracture deformity.
to seek help
If you get burned or injured, seek immediate medical assistance. Call your
doctor if your ability to move the affected part of your body is suddenly limited.
Seek treatment for chronic diseases and underlying conditions such as rheumatoid
arthritis. Treatment can help decrease or prevent symptoms.
and treating symptoms
Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask about your medical
history. Be prepared to explain your symptoms. Your doctor will probably ask you
- the specific location of your problem
- the intensity of your symptoms
- how much movement you still have
- how long your movement of that area has been
Your doctor may order X-rays or other tests to diagnose your condition.
Physical therapy is one of the most common treatments for contractures. It
helps to increase your range of motion and strengthen your muscles. Physical
therapy sessions require regular attendance for best results. Your physical
therapist can show you exercises to do at home. They can also provide hands-on
therapy to improve your mobility.
You may need to wear a cast or a splint to help stretch the tissues near the
problem area. A continuous passive motion (CPM) machine may be used to keep moving
the affected part of your body.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation and pain. In
cerebral palsy patients, botulinium toxin (Botox) is sometimes injected into
muscles to reduce tension and minimize spasms.
Surgery may be needed to lengthen muscles or repair ligaments, tendons, or
bones damaged in an accident. For example, your surgeon may repair a ligament
in your knee, with the hope that you’ll regain full range of motion in the long
Consequences of delaying treatment
Delaying or forgoing treatment may make it difficult or impossible for you to
regain your range of motion. Stiff muscles, joints, and skin can interfere with
performing everyday tasks at home and work.
People with diseases such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and multiple
sclerosis should be under continual medical care for the best outcomes.
If you have stayed long-term in the hospital or have been injured, it’s
especially important to tell your doctor about any stiffness or loss of movement
Preventing contracture deformity
Regular exercise and an active lifestyle can help prevent muscle and joint
stiffness. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about the best exercise
program for you. When playing sports or lifting heavy objects, use caution to
If you are injured, see your doctor right away. Follow your doctor’s
treatment recommendations to help prevent contracture. Physical therapy and
devices that passively move your joints can also help prevent problem areas