Dupuytren’s contracture is a condition that causes one or more fingers to become ‘hooked’; the person affected cannot straighten the affected finger because of overgrowth of connective tissue beneath the skin of the palm. One or more fingers can be involved and as the condition worsens, this causes significant dexterity problems.

Who develops Dupuytren’s contracture?

This problem is common in older people. One in five men over 60 and one in five women over 80 develop it and need treatment.

There is a strong genetic component and if you have a member of the family with Dupuytren’s contracture, you may be at a higher risk of developing it later in life. It is strongly associated with northern European ancestry, and could have arisen from a genetic mutation in the Viking population originally.

The gene mutation responsible has not been identified but people with Dupuytren’s contracture are known to have a higher than normal risk of skin cancer.

Symptoms of Dupuytren’s contracture

The first sign is the appearance of a thickening or a firm growth in the palm, just under the skin. These can feel a little sore, or they can be painless. The thickening is caused by the development of fibrous connective tissue along the length of the tendons in the hand. Usually they form first in the palm near the ring finger, making it more difficult to extend that finger.

As the thickening gets worse, there is shortening of the fibres in the palm, and the finger becomes permanently hooked towards the palm. The little finger and middle finger can then be affected.

This makes it difficult to do all sorts of things such as picking objects up, typing and using a computer, playing a musical instrument and fastening buttons. The condition is not life-threatening but the limitations it causes are significant.