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Updated: Dec 20 2017

Volkmann Ischemic Contracture

  • Snapshot
    • A 50-year-old man presents to his physician’s office two months after he was treated for compartment syndrome in his forearm. He reports having difficulty using his hands. Physical exam shows that his right fingers and wrist are flexed into a claw-like contracture. He is referred for surgical correction.
  • Introduction
    • Clinical definition
      • claw-like deformity of the hands with permanent shortening of the forearm muscles, resulting from ischemia and necrosis of the forearm muscles
    • Epidemiology
      • demographics
        • adults
      • risk factors
        • compartment syndrome
        • supracondylar humerus fracture
        • crush injuries
        • bleeding disorders
    • Pathogenesis
      • ischemia and necrosis of the forearm muscles from
        • obstruction of the brachial artery (compartment syndrome or restrictive cast)
        • fracture of the forearm bones causing bleeding from the major blood vessels
      • this results in scarring, stiffening, and shortening of the forearm muscles, causing the contracture
  • Presentation
    • Symptoms
      • inability to extend fingers or wrist or open hand
    • Physical exam
      • flexion contracture of several or all fingers
      • wrist may also be involved
      • may have ↓ sensation
      • pain with passive extension of fingers or wrist
      • unable to passively extend fingers or wrist fully
  • Studies
    • Making the diagnosis
      • most cases are clinically diagnosed
  • Differential
    • Pseudo-Volkmann contracture
      • distinguishing factors
        • primarily in children
        • forearm muscles are a normal length
  • Treatment
    • Conservative
      • physical and occupational therapy
        • indication
          • for all patients
    • Operative
      • surgical treatment
        • indication
          • to restore function of the hand
  • Complications
    • Permanent contracture of hands
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