Extent and direction of joint motion limitation after prolonged immobility: an experimental study in the rat.

date: 12/01/1999
author: Trudel G, Uhthoff HK, Brown M.
publication: Arch Phys Med Rehabilitation. 1999 Dec;80(12):1542-7.
pubmed_ID: 10597804

OBJECTIVES: To test the hypotheses that contractures progress at different rates in relation to the time after immobilization, that immobilization in flexion leads to loss of extension range of motion, and that joints of sham-operated animals are better controls than the contralateral joint of experimental animals. STUDY DESIGN: Experimental, controlled study in which 40 adult rats had one knee joint immobilized at 135 degrees of flexion for up to 32 weeks and 20 animals underwent a sham procedure. At intervals of 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32 weeks, 8 experimental and 4 sham-operated animals were killed and their knee motion measured in flexion and extension. RESULTS: In the experimental group, the range of motion decreased in the first 16 weeks of immobility at an average rate of 3.8 degrees per week (p<.0001) to reach 61.1 degrees of restriction. A plateau was then observed from which the contracture did not progress further. The loss in range of motion occurred in extension, not in flexion. CONCLUSION: This study defined an acute stage of contractures starting at the onset of immobility and lasting 16 weeks, during which the range of motion was progressively restricted, and a chronic stage during which no additional limitation was detected. The loss in motion was attributed to posterior knee structures not under tension during immobilization in flexion. Contrary to the hypothesis, the contralateral joint was validated as a control choice for range-of-motion experiments.