What Is Contracture? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:04 Contracture Definition
  • 0:59 Causes of Contracture
  • 1:41 Types of Contracture
  • 2:15 Treatment
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Contracture is the shortening or stiffening of muscles, skin, or connective tissues that results in decreased movement and range of motion. Read this lesson to learn what causes it, the symptoms, and how it's treated.

Contracture Definition

Have you ever woken up the morning after a day of strenuous exercise and had trouble straightening your legs all the way? Maybe your hamstrings felt especially tight after all of that working out? This is caused by the muscles contracting or shortening. Now imagine if that feeling didn't go away, even after plenty of rest and recovery time. This prolonged state of shortening or tightened tissue is called contracture. It can affect skin, muscles, joint areas, or any of the connective tissues, like tendons and ligaments. These tissues are naturally elastic, meaning they are stretchy under healthy conditions. However, sometimes they can be replaced with non-elastic (non-stretchy) tissues over time, and this prevents movement and decreases the range of motion in that area. To ''contract'' means to shorten or shrink, so this makes sense when we think about a contracture.

Causes of Contracture

So, what causes a contracture to develop? There are a number of reasons, one of the most common being immobilization or lack of use. Use it or lose it, so to speak. It can also be caused by brain or nervous system disorders such as cerebral palsy, stroke, or polio, as well as inherited disorders, like muscular dystrophy. Nerve damage, scarring from trauma (like an injury or burn), and inflammation disorders (like rheumatoid arthritis) can also cause contractures to form.

Since the muscles or tendons become too tight, the most common symptom is limited mobility. However, depending on the location of the contracture, it can also cause pain.

Types of Contracture

The most common type of contracture is contracture deformity, which is the general term for contracture of muscles. Additionally, there are some rarer forms, including:

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