What is Dupuytren’s Contracture?
Dupuytren’s contracture is a hand condition where thickening of the underlying fibrous tissues of the palm causes the fingers to bend inward. This makes it difficult to fully straighten the affected fingers. It commonly occurs in the ring finger and little finger. Occasionally, the middle finger is affected, but the thumb and index finger are rarely affected.
Causes of Dupuytren’s Contracture
Dupuytren’s contracture is caused from excessive production of collagen which is deposited under the skin. The cause of Dupuytren’s contracture is unknown. However, there are certain risk factors that may increase your chances of developing the condition. These can include the following:
- Age: More frequently around age 40
- Social habits: Smoking and drinking alcohol
- Medical conditions: Diabetes, alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver and seizure disorders
- Gender: More common in males than females
- Heredity: Condition tends to run in families
- Ancestry: Most commonly affected are northern Europeans and people of Scandinavian descent
Symptoms of Dupuytren’s Contracture
Dupuytren’s contracture is a condition that usually progresses slowly over many years and is not usually painful. However, some cases may progress rapidly and be painful. The most commonly observed symptoms of Dupuytren's contracture are lumps or nodules in the palm of the hand, difficulty in straightening the fingers and contracture of the nodules which form tough bands under the skin.
Diagnosis of Dupuytren’s Contracture
Dupuytren's contracture is diagnosed based on your history and a physical examination, without the need for any special tests. The physical examination may involve applying pressing on different parts of your hands and fingers to assess for hardened knots or tough bands of tissue.
Conservative Treatment for Dupuytren’s Contracture
You may not need treatment for Dupuytren’s contracture if the condition is not affecting your ability to perform daily activities. However, if you are experiencing pain or are having difficulty using your hands for everyday activities, your surgeon will recommend conservative treatment options to treat your condition. Treatment options will vary depending on the severity of your condition. The conservative approaches include:
- Heat: Applying heat to the palms of your hand prior to massage or exercise can help to loosen the tissues.
- Massage: Gently massage the thickened tissues of the palm.
- Exercises: Stretching exercises such as bending the fingers away from the palm may be useful.
- Injections: Steroid injections in the palm may be administered to relieve local inflammation.
- Collagenase injection: An enzymatic drug that breaks down collagen can be injected into the corded tissue to soften and weaken the contracture. The physician then manipulates the area manually to break up the tissue.
- Needle aponeurotomy: This procedure involves inserting a small needle into the thickened palm tissue and manipulating it to loosen and break up the contracting tissue. Ultrasound may be used to guide the needle to avoid hitting nerves or tendons.
Surgical Procedure for Dupuytren’s Contracture
If conservative treatment options fail to resolve the condition, the symptoms persist for 6 months or more, and your quality of life is adversely affected, your surgeon may recommend a surgical procedure to open the tendon sheath and allow more room for the movement of the tendon.
This surgery is usually performed in an operating room under local or regional anaesthesia on an outpatient basis as day surgery. Your surgeon makes a small incision to the affected palm area. Your surgeon then removes the thickened fibrous tissue causing the contracture. The incision is then closed with sutures and covered with a sterile dressing.
Complications following Surgery for Dupuytren’s Contracture
Complications can be medical (general) or specific to hand surgery. Medical complications include those of the anaesthetic and your general wellbeing. Some of the complications associated with hand surgery include:
- Nerve damage causing weakness, paralysis or loss of feeling in the hand area
- Injury to the arteries of the fingers/hand
- Recurrence of the condition