Half of the Adults Who Present to Hospital With Stroke Develop at Least One Contracture Within Six Months: An Observational Study

J Physiother. 2012;58(1):41-7. doi: 10.1016/S1836-9553(12)70071-1.


Questions: What is the incidence of contractures six months after stroke? Can factors measured within four weeks of stroke predict the development of elbow, wrist, and ankle contractures six months later?

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Participants: Consecutive sample of 200 adults with stroke admitted to a Sydney hospital.

Outcome measures: Loss of range of motion in major joints of the body was measured using a 4-point ordinal contracture scale. In addition, elbow extension, wrist extension, and ankle dorsiflexion range of motion were measured using torque-controlled procedures. Potential predictors of contracture were age, pre-morbid function, severity of stroke, muscle strength, spasticity, motor function, and pain. Measurements were obtained within four weeks of stroke and at six months after stroke.

Results: 52% of participants developed at least one contracture. Incidence of contracture varied across joints from 12% to 28%; shoulders and hips were most commonly affected. Muscle strength was a significant predictor of elbow, wrist, and ankle joint range. Prediction models explained only 6% to 20% of variance in elbow, wrist, and ankle joint range.

Conclusion: About half of all patients with stroke develop at least one contracture within six months of stroke. Incidence of contractures across all joints ranged from 12% to 28%. Muscle strength is a significant predictor of elbow, wrist, and ankle contractures but cannot be used to accurately predict contractures in these joints.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Contracture / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stroke / epidemiology*