Background: Free movement of the limbs is a prerequisite of mobility and autonomy in old age. The prevalence of contractures in international studies has been reported to range between 15% and 70%. The wide variation might be explained by different definitions and diagnostic criteria, settings, and participants' characteristics. Contractures lead to additional nursing demands. In Germany, contracture risk assessment and prevention have been recently defined as a quality indicator of nursing home care that should be regularly monitored by expert raters of the statutory health insurance system. Therefore, it is necessary to have a clear definition of contracture. The goal of this literature review was to identify definitions of contractures used in controlled trials.
Methods: A systematic literature search of controlled trials investigating contracture as primary, secondary, or adverse outcome was conducted using the databases PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, and the Cochrane Library. The search was limited to articles published after 1985 and written in English or German language. Publications were excluded, if animals, children, or congenital contracture were investigated. Two reviewers independently screened the abstracts and extracted data from full publications. Disagreement was solved by consensus involving a third reviewer.
Results: Initially, 544 publications were identified; 37 controlled studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria and were included. A total of 33 studies investigated contracture as primary outcome, three as secondary outcome, and one as adverse outcome. Five studies clearly defined the term contracture. However, all these definitions are different. In 31 studies, only the diagnostic criteria were mentioned and one study mentioned neither a definition nor specific diagnostic criteria.
Conclusion: The majority of clinical trials investigating contracture as outcome parameter do not provide a clear definition. However, the success of contracture prevention and treatment in clinical trials and practice can only be judged in the presence of a clear definition. Thus, it appears especially difficult to use contracture as a quality indicator for nursing homes.