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Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Soft Tissue Release of Contracture

Topic Overview

A contracture is a joint abnormally bent by shortened soft tissues in and around the joint. The shortened tissues pull the bone out of normal position. A contracture may develop in a joint affected by juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Because of the effectiveness of today's treatments, your child probably will not develop contractures. But if a contracture does develop, treatment may include splints and physical therapy.

Surgery is rarely used to treat JIA. But it is sometimes used to release contractures of at least moderate severity that have not responded to other treatments. Surgery is sometimes needed to restore motion, especially for hip and knee contractures that interfere with walking.

One procedure used is soft tissue releases of contractures, which involves cutting the muscles attached to an abnormally bent joint. As the muscles and other shortened tissues are released, the affected joint can return to a more normal position.

Goals of soft tissue releases of contractures include:

  • Returning the joint to a more functional position.
  • Increasing range of motion.
  • Relieving pain.

Casts are usually used for several weeks after contracture releases of the knee, followed by physical therapy and nighttime splinting. This procedure often relieves the contracture and pain associated with it and makes it easier for the child to move the joint.

Physical therapy after a soft tissue release is essential to benefiting from the procedure. For this reason, children must be at least 6 years old to be considered for this surgery.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Last Revised June 5, 2012

Last Revised: June 5, 2012

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