What is Contracture?
Contracture is another name for extreme stiffness in the muscles, joints, or connective tissue. It is an advanced form of spasticity. Many stroke survivors suffer from a large amount of spasticity in their affected hand, which can lead to a clenched fist. After the brain is damaged by a stroke or another neurological condition, it is unable to properly communicate with the affected hand and spasticity ensues as a result. It is very important that you address a clenched fist as soon as possible to help prevent contracture.
What Causes Contracture?
Lack of use is the most common cause of contracture. If your hand remains clenched for long periods of time, your hand muscles will start to shorten, causing them to become very tight. Patients with contracture will experience very tight muscles and a limited range of motion. Additionally, contracture can become very painful and can require surgery in order to release the muscles.
Contractures are preventable! By stretching your muscles throughout the day, you can prevent your hand spasticity from worsening.
How do I Prevent Contracture?
One way to prevent contracture would be to wear a hand splint (orthosis) for a few hours every day or even while you are sleeping in order to passively stretch the muscles and maintain a unclenched hand state for an extended period of time.
A great tool that allows for a long passive stretch is Neofect’s Extender Splint. The Neofect Extender is a functional orthosis tool that is used to minimize spasticity, maintain functional grasp and prevent stiffness.
Another way to prevent contracture is to address the underlying cause: the spasticity. In order to help decrease spasticity it is important to retrain the brain in order to prevent miscommunication from the brain to the hand. You are able to rewire the pathways in your brain through the concept of Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that the brain has the ability the rewire itself even in injured areas by performing repetitive tasks and movements. The Neofect Smart Glove and Neofect Smart Board allows you to conduct repetitive training that is not only effective but also fun.
People may choose different paths to treat their spasticity however it is very important to address it in order to prevent a contracture and other severe consequences.
- Becky Alter, OTR/LBecky is an occupational therapist and healthcare content writer based out of Denver, CO.