Joint and Muscle Contractures

UPMC Content 2

What Is a Contracture?

Contractures lead to stiffness or tightening of tissues, including:

  • Muscles
  • Joints
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Skin

As tissue that stretches becomes less flexible, you might:

  • Begin having contracture symptoms
  • Find it hard to move the affected area
  • Have limited range of motion

Contracture causes and risk factors

Risk factors that may cause contractures include:

  • Scarring from burns or injuries
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Nerve damage
  • Stroke
  • Central nervous system diseases
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tenosynovitis (swelling of a tendon and the tendon sheath)
  • Traumatic injury
  • Being inactive for a long time

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Contracture Symptoms and Diagnosis

Contracture symptoms

Symptoms of contractures include:

  • Loss of movement in the affected joint
  • Pain

Contracture diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform an exam.

To help confirm a contracture diagnosis, your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as an:

  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound

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Contracture Treatments

Doctors at UPMC Orthopaedic Care offer many contracture treatments to loosen and relax stiff areas.

Nonsurgical contracture treatments

Your doctor may use one or more of the following to treat your contracture:

  • Physical therapy
  • Casts and splints to keep the joint extended
  • Medicine to relax the joints
  • Nerve blocks to numb the affected joint
  • Electrical stimulation

Contracture surgery

If other treatments don't work, your doctor may suggest contracture surgery to:

  • Lengthen your muscles
  • Repair ligaments, tendons, or bones

The main goal of contracture surgery is to restore a full range of motion to the affected area.

Make an appointment for contracture treatment

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

Learn more about contracture treatments

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