Depuytren’s contracture is a disorder, which results in a progressive contracture of the fingers. This condition usually affects the ring and small fingers.
A Depuytren’s contracture is caused by a progressive thickening and shortening of the palmar fascia particularly of the metacarpo-phalangeal (MCP) joints and the proximal inter-phalangeal (PIP) joints leading to a debilitating impairment of the finger posture and movements. The disease arises from fibroblast cell growth or fibromatosis and increased collagen deposition resulting in the thickening and hardening of the palmar fascia.
A Depuytren’s contracture is caused by a progressive thickening and shortening of the palmar fascia particularly of the MCP joints and the proximal PIP joints leading to a debilitating impairment of the finger posture and movements. The disease arises from fibroblast cell growth or fibromatosis and increased collagen deposition resulting in the thickening and hardening of the palmar fascia.
The severity of the disease is divided into three grades:
Grade 1: thickened nodules in the palmar aponeurosis, skin colour changes
Grade 2: formation of pretendinous and cords, limited finger extension
Grade 3: permanent contracture of the affected finger(s)
The causes leading to Depuytren’s Contracture are not known. The condition is more frequent in older men of the northern European countries and is thought to have a hereditary aetiology.
Although risk factors leading to Depuytren’s contracture remain obscure, it is thought that the following demographic and life style components may pose a risk:
Age between 40 and 60 years
Northern European ancestry
Medical conditions: diabetes, seizures
The symptoms arising from Dupuytren's contracture arise gradually and include:
Appearance of nodules at palmar side of the hand
Pain at the nodules
Formation of rigid bands under the skin
Presence of flexion contracture towards the palm
Impaired finger extension
Movement restriction (grasping)
The diagnosis of Depuytren’s contracture does not require special tests. Medical examination is based on observation of the hand anatomy and palpation. The doctor looks for:
Thickening of the fascia, presence of knots at the palmar site (initial stage), along the fingers (at later stage) and finger contracture
Measurements of finger flexion are taken at regular intervals to monitor the progression of the disorder
Tabletop test: failure to flatten the hand and fingers together with the characteristic findings of nodules on the palm of the hand is indicative for Depuytren’s contracture.
Management of the Depuytren’s contracture depends on the severity of the disease. Conservative treatment does not provide much benefit compared to surgical intervention, which is more commonly adopted. Enzymatic fasciotomy is a new method and consists in the injection of an enzyme into the cords to disrupt the thick tissue to regain flexibility and mobility of the fingers. This procedure is only recommended in the initial stages of the disease with only one finger being involved (usually at the MCP joint). Splinting is to be avoided as it may exacerbate the contracture. Additional treatments include:
Administration of NSAIDs
Local steroid injection
Surgery is required in case of a severe contracture of both fingers.
Fasciotomy or fasciectomy consists in the removal of the thick bands (fascia) to restore motility (not always completely) of the fingers. This includes a radical fasciectomy when the surgeon removes both the palmar and finger fascia in case of a severe contracture. Hand and finger movement will commence early after surgery to help reducing swelling and restore finger flexibility. Approximately 20% of patients will have a recurrent finger contracture.
Needle aponeurotomy (or percutaneous fasciotomy) is an additional new treatment performed under local anaesthesia without a skin incision. It is based on the placement of needles to separate the thickened tissue. It can be performed at any disease stage. Despite surgery, the disease may return and affect other fingers.
Complications following surgical fasciotomy for Depuyten’s contracture are:
Limited straightening of the fingers
Requirement of skin graft in extensive surgery
Joint pain and stiffness
Poor wound healing
A physical or occupational therapist recommends exercises to restore flexibility and strength of the fingers affected by Depuyten’s contracture. Standard rehabilitative therapy also includes:
There are no specific preventive measures to Depuytren’s contracture. Even surgery may be followed by a recurrent or worsening of the condition. Exercises to improve the flexibility of the fingers may assist in maintaining an acceptable function.