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Joint and Muscle Contractures

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To request an appointment or for additional information, please call 866-987-6784 or submit a form online.

What Is a Contracture?

A contracture occurs when your muscles, tendons, joints, or other tissues tighten or shorten causing a deformity. Contracture symptoms include pain and loss of movement in the joint. If this occurs, you should seek treatment right away. Doctors can treat contractures with medicine, casts, and physical therapy.

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 

Learn more about contracture risk factors

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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 

Learn more about diagnostic tests for contractures

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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. 

Learn more about contracture treatments

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UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

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