To answer the question whether the muscle contracture in patients with cerebral palsy is caused by overstretching of in-series sarcomeres we studied the active and passive force-length relationship of the flexor carpi ulnaris muscle (FCU) in relation to its operating length range in 14 such patients with a flexion deformity of the wrist.Force-length relationship was measured intra-operatively using electrical stimulation, a force transducer, and a data-acquisition system. Muscle length was measured in maximally flexed and maximally extended position of the wrist.The spastic FCU was found to exert over 80% of its maximum active force at maximal extension of the wrist and this indicates abundant overlap of the sarcomeres. At maximal wrist extension, FCU passive force corresponded with only 0.7-18% of maximum active force. Both findings imply that the FCU sarcomeres are not overstretched when the wrist is extended. We conclude that the overstretching of in-series sarcomeres appears not to be the cause of contracture of the spastic FCU. © 2004 Orthopaedic Research Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.