Hand Disorders

Arthrogryposis (Limited Movement and Stiff Joints)

What Is Arthrogryposis?

Arthrogryposis, meaning stiff joints, is a condition that includes multiple joint contractures and lack of muscle development. The most commonly affected joints are in the child's hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and feet.

What Causes Arthrogryposis?

The cause of arthrogryposis cannot be identified in most cases. When joints are not moved for a period of time before birth, extra connective tissue develops, and it can result in joint contractures. In this case, the joint is fixed in a stiff or locked position and the tendons connecting the joint do not stretch to their normal length, making joint movement difficult.

Limited joint movement can be the result of one of the following:

  • Muscles that do not develop properly
  • Muscle diseases
  • A fever or virus during pregnancy that damages cells transmitting nerve impulses
  • A decreased amount of amniotic fluid
  • Failure of the central nervous system and spinal cord to form correctly
  • Tendons, bones, joints or joint linings that develop abnormally

A genetic cause has been recognized in about 30 percent of cases.

How Is Arthrogryposis Treated?

Physical and occupational therapy, as well as bracing and exercising, may help improve flexibility, position of the child's joints and use of the upper arms. Surgery may be necessary to release joint contractures that do not respond to therapy.

The goal of both operative and nonoperative treatment is to help children gain independence in daily activities and to prepare them for school and adult life.