A knee contracture, or restriction of motion, can be a result of many conditions. Of primary concern is the ability of a patient to extend, or straighten, the knee all of the way. The inability to extend the knee all of the way may result in many symptoms to include pain, swelling, and weakness. Patients will be at risk to develop tendonitis, osteoarthritis in certain areas of the knee, or pain in adjacent joints.
A knee contracture can result from many factors. Patients may walk with a flexed knee after an injury or surgery. Bone spurs or a cartilage injury may cause a mechanical block to extension. Determining the exact source of the contracture is paramount in determining the treatment course.
Diagnosis is based on a combination of history, physical examination, and radiographs. Plain x-rays will help evaluate for any potential mechanical sources for the restriction of motion. MRI may be used as an additional source to evaluate for mechanical causes, such as a cartilage injury. Treatment initially surrounds a diligent home stretching protocol and physical therapy for gait training, formal stretching, and muscle education. Anti-inflammatory medications and icing may be utilized to treat any other conditions that have evolved due to the restriction of motion. If conservative measures fail, then surgical intervention can be considered. Outpatient arthroscopy allows for treatment for any mechanical sources blocking range of motion.
The ability to ambulate with full range of motion is paramount for proper knee function, allowing for improved functional activities, strength, and athleticism.