Interventions for the prevention and treatment of disability due to acquired joint contractures in older people: a systematic review

Age Ageing. 2017 May 1;46(3):373-382. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afx026.


Background: acquired joint contractures have significant effects on quality of life and functioning.

Objective: to determine the effects of interventions to prevent and treat disabilities in older people with acquired joint contractures.

Methods: systematic search (last 8/2016) via Cochrane Library, PubMed, EMBASE, PEDro, CINAHL, trial registries, reference lists of retrieved articles and scientific congress pamphlets. Controlled and randomised controlled trials in English or German comparing an intervention with another intervention or standard care were included. Two independent researchers performed the selection of publications, data extraction and critical appraisal.

Results: seventeen studies with 992 participants met the inclusion criteria: 16 randomised controlled trials and 1 controlled trial (nursing homes = 4, community settings = 13). The methodological quality of the studies varied. Splints were examined in four studies, stretching exercises in nine studies, and ultrasound, passive movement therapy, bed-positioning and group exercise were each examined in one study. Studies on splints revealed inconclusive results regarding joint mobility or spasticity. Five of seven studies that assessed active stretching programmes for healthy older people reported statistically significant effects on joint mobility in favour of the intervention. Pain, quality of life, activity limitations and participation restrictions were rarely assessed.

Conclusion: the evidence for the effectiveness of interventions to prevent and treat disability due to joint contractures is weak, particularly for established nursing interventions such as positioning and passive movement. Better understanding is required regarding the delivery of interventions, such as their intensity and duration. In addition to functional issues, activities and social participation should also be studied as outcomes.

Keywords: contracture; older people; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Contracture / diagnosis
  • Contracture / physiopathology
  • Contracture / therapy*
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Joint Deformities, Acquired / diagnosis
  • Joint Deformities, Acquired / physiopathology
  • Joint Deformities, Acquired / therapy*
  • Joints / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedic Procedures / adverse effects
  • Orthopedic Procedures / instrumentation*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / instrumentation
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Quality of Life
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Recovery of Function
  • Splints
  • Treatment Outcome