Nonsurgical Treatment Options for Muscle Contractures in Individuals With Neurologic Disorders: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis

Arch Rehabil Res Clin Transl. 2021 Jan 13;3(1):100104. doi: 10.1016/j.arrct.2021.100104. eCollection 2021 Mar.


Objective: To investigate whether nonsurgical treatment can reduce muscle contractures in individuals with neurologic disorders. The primary outcome measure was muscle contractures measured as joint mobility or passive stiffness.

Data sources: Embase, MEDLINE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health, and Physiotherapy Evidence Database in June-July 2019 and again in July 2020.

Study selection: The search resulted in 8020 records, which were screened by 2 authors based on our patient, intervention, comparison, outcome criteria. We included controlled trials of nonsurgical interventions administered to treat muscle contractures in individuals with neurologic disorders.

Data extraction: Authors, participant characteristics, intervention details, and joint mobility/passive stiffness before and after intervention were extracted. We assessed trials for risk of bias using the Downs and Black checklist. We conducted meta-analyses investigating the short-term effect on joint mobility using a random-effects model with the pooled effect from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) as the primary outcome. The minimal clinically important effect was set at 5°.

Data synthesis: A total of 70 trials (57 RCTs) were eligible for inclusion. Stretch had a pooled effect of 3° (95% CI, 1-4°; prediction interval (PI)=-2 to 7°; I 2=66%; P<.001), and robot-assisted rehabilitation had an effect of 1 (95% CI, 0-2; PI=-8 to 9; I 2=73%; P=.03). We found no effect of shockwave therapy (P=.56), physical activity (P=.27), electrical stimulation (P=.11), or botulinum toxin (P=.13). Although trials were generally of moderate to high quality according to the Downs and Black checklist, only 18 of the 70 trials used objective measures of muscle contractures. In 23 trials, nonobjective measures were used without use of assessor-blinding.

Conclusions: We did not find convincing evidence supporting the use of any nonsurgical treatment option. We recommend that controlled trials using objective measures of muscle contractures and a sufficiently large number of participants be performed.

Keywords: BTX, botulinum toxin; CCT, controlled clinical trial; Contracture; Nervous System Diseases; PI, prediction interval; PICO, patient, intervention, comparison, outcome; PROM, passive range of motion; RCT, randomized controlled trial; Range of motion, articular; Rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review