Etiology, Evaluation, and Management Options for the Stiff Digit

J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2019 Aug 1;27(15):e676-e684. doi: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-18-00310.


The stiff digit may be a consequence of trauma or surgery to the hand and fingers and can markedly affect a patient's level of function and quality of life. Stiffness and contractures may be caused by one or a combination of factors including joint, intrinsic, extensor, and flexor tendon pathology, and the patient's individual biology. A thorough understanding of the anatomy, function, and relationship of these structures on finger joint range of motion is crucial for interpreting physical examination findings and preoperative planning. For most cases, nonsurgical management is the initial step and consists of hand therapy, static and dynamic splinting, and/or serial casting, whereas surgical management is considered for those with more extensive contractures or for those that fail to improve with conservative management. Assuming no bony block to motion, surgery consists of open joint release, tenolysis of flexor and/or extensor tendons, and external fixation devices. Outcomes after treatment vary depending on the joint involved along with the severity of contracture and the patient's compliance with formal hand therapy and a home exercise program.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contracture / etiology
  • Contracture / therapy*
  • Finger Injuries / etiology
  • Finger Injuries / therapy*
  • Hand Injuries / etiology
  • Hand Injuries / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Orthopedic Procedures
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy*
  • Quality of Life
  • Splints
  • Tendon Injuries / etiology
  • Tendon Injuries / therapy*