Contracture is an abnormal shortening or tightening of connective tissue or MUSCLE that impedes proper movement of a JOINT, digit, or other musculoskeletal structure. Contractures typically develop when fibrous tissue (scarring), which is relatively inflexible, replaces normal connective tissue. This process may reflect autoimmune activity in the body (such as occurs in RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS), repeated trauma (such as occurs in REPETITIVE MOTION INJURIES), or a neuromuscular disorder (such as MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY or CEREBRAL PALSY). Contractures can cause permanent deformity of joints, resulting in limited function or movement.
Types of Contracture
Common types of contracture include
- Dupuytren’s contracture, in which fibrous tissue in the fascia of the hand causes the ring and sometimes little (third and fourth) fingers to draw toward the palm
- foot drop, which results from damage to the muscles and nerves of the lower leg
- wrist drop, which results from damage to the muscles and nerves of the lower arm
- Volksmann’s contracture, which results from injury that restricts the flow of BLOOD to the forearm and hand
Early symptoms of contracture include difficulty straightening a joint and occasionally discomfort or PAIN with movement of the joints. Therapeutic efforts such as gentle stretching and braces may improve function, though surgery may be necessary to release fibrotic tissue.
See also ARTHROGRYPOSIS; SCAR; TALIPES EQUINOVARUS.