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A to Z: Contracture of Tendon Sheath

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May also be called: Contracture of Tendon (Sheath); Tendon Sheath Contracture

Contracture (kun-TRAK-chur) of tendon sheath is a rare condition in which the protective sheath surrounding a tendon tightens and grows thicker, which can limit movement in an affected joint. Tendons are the special cords made of tough tissue that attach muscles to bones.

More to Know

Non-bony tissue — such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, or skin — is normally flexible, allowing joints to move. A contracture is a condition in which this tissue stiffens and becomes permanently tight, affecting the joint’s movement.

Many tendons are surrounded by a membrane called the tendon sheath, or synovium, that protects the tendon and keeps it lubricated. When contracture happens to a tendon sheath, it can pull a tendon and muscle tight.

Contracture of tendon sheath is most common in the tendons of the wrist, hands, and feet. It often happens after a tendon-related injury in which a tendon sheath stays irritated for too long or heals incorrectly. Other causes include deformity, certain diseases, and long-term immobility, or lack of use. Contracture of tendon sheath can cause physical deformity (such as fingers that are tightened into a curl) as well as disability and, in some cases, pain.

Stretching, bracing, and physical therapy can help keep contracture from getting worse, but once the tendon sheath is contracted it usually stays that way. Repairing a contracted tendon sheath and restoring a full range of motion often requires surgery.

Keep in Mind

Many cases of contracture of tendon sheath are mild, cause very few problems, and never require any treatment. If a contracture causes pain or interferes with movement, however, surgery can often correct the problem.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.