Current knowledge on the epidemiology of major joint contractures is limited. We systematically reviewed the literature to identify studies examining the epidemiology of joint contracture regardless of clinical condition. Epidemiologic measures of interest were prevalence, incidence, and prognostic risk factors. We used Medline to identify all epidemiologic studies of major joint contractures published from 1966 to March 2005. There was a high prevalence of major joint contractures. Most studies focused on one joint rather than including all relevant major contractures. However, most studies did provide a definition of a contracture or the measures used to assess contractures. Immobility is a highly prevalent disability in at-risk populations, and constitutes a tremendous burden to patients in nursing homes, hospitals, and the outpatient community. The lack of epidemiologic data is a major impediment to providing appropriate treatment.