Contractures

Contractures refer to the permanent tightening of nonbony tissues, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, or skin. It results in a loss of motion in the affected joints. Contracture is different from spasticity, but they are often related. Spasticity is an abnormal increase in muscle tone, which can worsen the development of contractures.

  • 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 often also associated with spasticity resulting from injuries to the central nervous system, such as stroke or brain injury.

  • Definition

    Contractures refer to the permanent tightening of nonbony tissues, such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, or skin. It results in a loss of motion in the affected joints.

    Contracture is different from spasticity, but they are often related. Spasticity is an abnormal increase in muscle tone, which can worsen the development of contractures.

    Contracture Deformity of the Hand
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your joints will be examined for restricted movement and range of motion.


    Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with
    x-rays.

  • 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.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk of contractures include:

    • 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. Pain can also be a major symptom.

  • Treatment

    Treatment includes: