Joint Contractures

A joint contracture is characterized by chronic impairment of joint motion caused by structural changes in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. This may occur in any joint of your body as a result of immobilization, nerve injuries or disease.

Symptoms include pain and significant loss of joint motion.

Diagnosis of Joint Contractures

The first step in diagnosis is testing of the joint mobility. This process is often the job of a physical therapist, who works to identify signs of restricted joint structures. A device called a goniometer may help to measure the motion of the affected joint. X-rays may also be used to check for decreased joint space.


There are several different treatment options and techniques for joint contractures. To increase the joint elasticity, a doctor may recommend joint mobilization and stretching of the tissues, which is often combined with heat.

A continuous passive motion machine can move the joint through your tolerated range of motion, promoting a return to normal joint function. These devices are often used within a few days of injury or surgery.

To provide a consistent stretch of the surrounding tissues, your doctor may apply a cast or splint. This is common for patients who have been immobilized for long periods, or those who have experienced nerve injuries. Some cases require a series of casts at regular intervals.

When the joint contracture is severe and does not respond to other treatments, surgery may be needed. In these cases, Dr. Morse would administer an anesthetic and then manipulate the joint.