2012 Volume 227 Issue 1 Pages 13-22
Joint immobilization, which is used in orthopaedic treatments and observed in bedridden people, usually causes restricted joint motion. Decreased joint motion diminishes activities of daily living and increases burden of nursing-care. The purpose of this study was to clarify the reversibility of immobilization-induced capsular changes and restricted joint motion in rat knee joints. The unilateral knee joints of adult male rats were immobilized with an internal fixator for 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 weeks as a model of immobilization after surgery or disuse of the joint. After the fixation devices were removed, the rats were allowed to move freely for 16 weeks. Sham-operated rats were used as controls. Sagittal sections at medial midcondylar regions were made and assessed with histological, histomorphometric, and immunohistochemical methods. Joint motion was measured using a custom-made device under x-ray control after removal of the periarticular muscles. In the 1/16-week and 2/16-week immobilization-remobilization (Im-Rm) groups, cord-like structures connecting the superior and inferior portions of the posterior capsule (partial adhesion) were observed without restricted joint motion. In the 4/16-, 8/16-, and 16/16-week Im-Rm groups, global adhesion of the posterior capsule and restricted joint motion were observed. The restricted joint motion was not completely restored after incision of the posterior capsule. These data indicate that immobilization alone causes irreversible capsular changes and arthrogenic restricted joint motion. Besides the joint capsule, other arthrogenic factors such as ligaments might influence the restricted joint motion. Prolonged immobilization over 4 weeks should be avoided to prevent irreversible joint contracture.