Dupuytren Contracture: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Dupuytren Contracture

Definition and Overview

Dupuytren contracture, also known as Dupuytren’s disease or simply Dupuytren’s, is a progressive hand condition that primarily affects the connective tissue beneath the skin of the palm and fingers. This condition is characterized by the formation of nodules and thickened cords of tissue that can cause one or more fingers to become permanently bent towards the palm, limiting hand function. Dupuytren contracture typically progresses slowly and can significantly impact a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks, such as gripping objects and extending their fingers fully.

Dupuytren contracture is named after the French surgeon Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, who first described the condition in the early 19th century. Dupuytren’s initial observations and contributions to the understanding of this disorder laid the foundation for its recognition and study in the medical field. Over the years, medical knowledge about Dupuytren contracture has expanded, leading to advancements in diagnosis and treatment options.

Prevalence and Incidence

Dupuytren contracture is a relatively common condition, especially among individuals of Northern European descent. It tends to affect older adults, with the prevalence increasing with age. While the exact cause of Dupuytren’s is not fully understood, genetic factors are believed to play a significant role in its development. It is more common in men than in women.

The prevalence of Dupuytren contracture can vary geographically, with higher rates reported in some regions, such as Northern Europe. It’s essential to recognize the significance of this condition, as early diagnosis and intervention can improve treatment outcomes and help individuals manage its impact on their hand function and quality of life.

Dupuytren Contracture - hand

Anatomy of the Hand

Overview of Hand Anatomy

To understand Dupuytren contracture fully, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the hand. The human hand is an intricate and highly functional structure composed of bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. It is responsible for a wide range of movements and functions, from gripping and grasping to fine motor skills like writing and typing.

The key components of hand anatomy include:

  • Bones: The hand consists of 27 bones, including the carpals (wrist bones), metacarpals (palm bones), and phalanges (finger bones).
  • Joints: Various joints within the hand allow for movement, including hinge-like joints in the fingers and the saddle joint at the base of the thumb.
  • Muscles: Muscles in the forearm control the movement of the hand and fingers by pulling on tendons that connect to the bones.
  • Tendons: Tendons are fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones and play a crucial role in hand movement.
  • Ligaments: Ligaments provide stability to the joints and prevent excessive movement.
  • Nerves and Blood Vessels: The hand is richly supplied with nerves and blood vessels, ensuring sensory perception and blood flow.

Relevant Structures in Dupuytren Contracture

In Dupuytren contracture, the condition primarily affects the palmar fascia, a sheet of connective tissue located beneath the skin of the palm. The palmar fascia consists of thick bands of tissue that extend into the fingers. When Dupuytren’s disease progresses, these bands of tissue become thickened and form nodules. Over time, the nodules can develop into cords that contract and pull the fingers towards the palm, causing the characteristic finger bending associated with the condition.

Key structures and terms relevant to Dupuytren contracture include:

  • Palmar Fascia: The fibrous tissue beneath the skin of the palm that becomes thickened and forms cords in individuals with Dupuytren’s.
  • Nodules: Small, firm lumps or bumps that initially develop within the palmar fascia.
  • Cords: Thickened and contracted bands of tissue that extend from the palm into one or more fingers.
  • Finger Flexion: The bending of the fingers towards the palm due to the contracture of the cords.
  • Finger Extensor Tendons: The tendons responsible for extending the fingers; these tendons can be affected by the contracture in advanced cases.

Causes and Risk Factors

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors are believed to be a significant contributor to the development of Dupuytren contracture. This condition tends to run in families, and individuals with a family history of Dupuytren’s are at an increased risk. Several genes have been associated with Dupuytren’s disease, although the exact genetic mechanisms are not fully understood. Having a family member, particularly a parent or sibling, with Dupuytren contracture increases the likelihood of developing the condition.

Age and Gender

Age and gender also play important roles in the risk of developing Dupuytren contracture. This condition is more commonly diagnosed in older adults, typically those over the age of 40. It tends to progress more rapidly in older individuals. While Dupuytren’s can affect both men and women, it is more prevalent in men. Men are generally diagnosed with Dupuytren contracture at a younger age than women, and they often experience more severe forms of the condition.

Other Contributing Factors

In addition to genetic factors, age, and gender, several other contributing factors have been associated with an increased risk of developing Dupuytren’s disease.

  • Ancestry: Dupuytren contracture is more common among people of Northern European descent, particularly those of Scandinavian, Celtic, or Northern European ancestry. It is less common in populations from Asia and Africa.
  • Smoking and Alcohol Use: Some studies suggest that there may be a connection between smoking and heavy alcohol consumption and an increased risk of Dupuytren’s. However, the exact relationship is not fully understood.
  • Diabetes: There is some evidence to suggest a potential link between diabetes and an increased risk of Dupuytren contracture. People with diabetes may be more prone to developing this condition.
  • Hand Trauma: While not a direct cause, hand injuries or trauma to the palm may trigger or exacerbate Dupuytren’s in individuals who are already predisposed to the condition.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as anticonvulsants and medications used to treat epilepsy, have been associated with an increased risk of Dupuytren’s in some studies.

It’s important to note that while these factors are associated with an increased risk of Dupuytren contracture, they do not guarantee the development of the condition. Many individuals with risk factors never develop Dupuytren’s, and conversely, some people without apparent risk factors can develop the condition.

Signs and Symptoms

Early Signs

Dupuytren contracture typically begins with subtle early signs that may go unnoticed or be mistaken for other minor hand issues.

  • Nodules: Small, painless lumps or nodules may develop beneath the skin of the palm, usually near the base of the fingers or in the palm’s central area. These nodules may feel firm and slightly tender to the touch.
  • Skin Puckering: The skin overlying the nodules may become dimpled or puckered, which can be an early indicator of the condition.
  • Reduced Finger Extension: Some individuals may notice mild difficulty in fully extending their fingers, particularly the ring and little fingers. This early limitation in finger extension is often subtle and not bothersome.

Progression of Symptoms

As Dupuytren contracture advances, the initial nodules can progress into thicker, fibrous cords that extend from the palm into one or more fingers.

  • Finger Contracture: The most characteristic symptom of Dupuytren’s disease is finger contracture, where one or more fingers bend towards the palm and become permanently flexed. The ring and little fingers are most commonly affected, but other fingers can also be involved.
  • Difficulty Grasping Objects: The finger contractures can make it challenging to grasp objects, perform activities that require full finger extension, or place the hand flat on a surface.
  • Decreased Hand Function: As the contractures progress, individuals may experience a gradual decline in hand function. Everyday tasks like holding utensils, shaking hands, or typing on a keyboard can become increasingly challenging.
  • Pain: In some cases, mild discomfort or pain may accompany the development of nodules or cords. However, pain is not a universal symptom of Dupuytren’s disease and is more common in the presence of inflammation.

Impact on Hand Function

The impact of Dupuytren contracture on hand function can vary widely depending on the severity and extent of finger contractures. In its early stages, the condition may have minimal impact on daily activities. However, as the contractures progress and fingers become more bent, individuals may experience limitations in their ability to:

  • Grip objects firmly
  • Extend their fingers fully
  • Perform tasks that require fine motor skills
  • Complete activities that involve the use of both hands

In severe cases, Dupuytren’s disease can significantly reduce hand function and quality of life. Seeking medical evaluation and treatment options as early as possible can help mitigate the impact of the condition and improve outcomes.


While Dupuytren contracture has a genetic component, and some risk factors are beyond an individual’s control, there are strategies that may help reduce the risk of developing the condition or delay its onset.

  • Hand Health Awareness: Be mindful of your hand health and any changes in the palm or fingers. Regularly check for the development of nodules, thickened cords, or early signs of contracture. Early detection can lead to earlier intervention.
  • Hand Exercises: Incorporate hand and finger exercises into your daily routine to promote hand flexibility and maintain range of motion. These exercises can help keep your hands active and healthy.
  • Maintain General Health: Manage underlying health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as they may be associated with an increased risk of Dupuytren contracture in some individuals.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Avoid or limit smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, as these behaviors have been linked to a higher risk of Dupuytren’s disease in some studies.
  • Protective Measures: When engaging in activities that could result in hand injuries, such as heavy manual labor or sports, consider wearing protective gloves to reduce the risk of trauma to the hand.
  • Genetic Counseling: If you have a family history of Dupuytren’s disease, consider genetic counseling to better understand your risk and explore potential preventive measures.


Early Detection

Early detection of Dupuytren contracture is crucial for prompt intervention and potentially more effective treatment outcomes.

  • Self-Examination: Regularly inspect your hands for the development of nodules or thickened areas in the palm, especially near the base of the fingers. Early-stage Dupuytren’s can often be identified by the presence of these palpable nodules.
  • Professional Evaluation: If you notice any changes in your hands or suspect the development of Dupuytren contracture, seek evaluation. A clinical examination can confirm the diagnosis and assess the stage of the condition.
  • Regular Check-Ups: If you have risk factors for Dupuytren’s, such as a family history or genetic predisposition, consider regular check-ups with a hand specialist to monitor your hand health and detect any changes early.
  • Consultation for Symptoms: If you experience symptoms like finger contractures, pain, or functional limitations, make a consultations promptly. Early intervention can help manage symptoms and potentially slow disease progression.

Early detection and proactive management can improve the effectiveness of treatments and reduce the impact of Dupuytren contracture on hand function and quality of life. Staying informed about the condition and its risk factors is a key step in prevention and early intervention.

Clinical Examination

The diagnosis of Dupuytren contracture typically begins with a thorough clinical examination. During this examination, we will:

  • Assess Palpable Nodules and Cords: We will feel the palm and fingers for the presence of nodules, cords, or areas of thickening in the palmar fascia. The location and extent of these abnormalities will be noted
  • Evaluate Finger Contractures: We will check for finger contractures, which are a hallmark of Dupuytren’s disease. We will measure the degree of finger flexion and note which fingers are affected.
  • Inquire About Symptoms: We will ask about any symptoms, such as pain or functional limitations, that the patient may be experiencing due to Dupuytren contracture.
  • Assess Family History: A family history of Dupuytren’s is often significant, so the we will inquire about any relatives who may have had the condition.
  • Discuss Risk Factors: The patient’s medical history, including any risk factors such as age, gender, and ancestry, will be discussed to determine the likelihood of Dupuytren’s disease.

Imaging and Diagnostic Tests

In many cases, a diagnosis of Dupuytren contracture can be made based on clinical examination alone. However, in some situations or to plan for surgical intervention, additional imaging and diagnostic tests may be employed.

  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging can be used to visualize the nodules, cords, and the extent of tissue involvement in the palm and fingers. It provides a detailed view of the affected structures and can help guide treatment decisions.
  • X-rays: X-rays are not typically used to diagnose Dupuytren’s, but they may be performed to rule out other underlying hand conditions or to assess joint involvement in advanced cases.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI scans may be used in complex cases to provide detailed images of the hand’s soft tissues, including the palmar fascia and any associated structures.
  • Biopsy (Rarely): In very rare cases where the diagnosis is uncertain or another condition is suspected, a small tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken from the affected area for microscopic examination.

The combination of clinical examination and, if necessary, imaging studies help us accurately diagnose Dupuytren contracture, determine its stage and severity, and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial to effectively manage the condition and prevent further progression of finger contractures.

Dupuytren Contracture

Stages of Dupuytren Contracture

Stage 1: Nodules

Stage 1 of Dupuytren contracture is characterized by the presence of nodules or small lumps beneath the skin of the palm. These nodules are typically painless and may initially go unnoticed or be mistaken for minor hand irregularities.

Key features of Stage 1 include:

  • Nodules: Small, firm, and often slightly tender lumps develop within the palmar fascia.
  • Skin Changes: The skin overlying the nodules may appear puckered or dimpled.
  • No Significant Contracture: In Stage 1, there is typically no significant bending or contracture of the fingers.

During Stage 1, individuals may not experience significant functional limitations, but the presence of nodules serves as an early warning sign of Dupuytren’s disease. Regular monitoring and evaluation are important to track any progression to later stages.

Stage 2: Cords

Stage 2 represents the progression of Dupuytren’s disease as the nodules transform into thickened cords of fibrous tissue within the palm.

Key features of Stage 2 include:

  • Cords Form: Nodules gradually evolve into thickened, fibrous cords that extend from the palm into one or more fingers.
  • Progressive Stiffness: As the cords develop, individuals may begin to notice progressive stiffness in their fingers, particularly in the ring and little fingers.
  • Limited Finger Extension: In Stage 2, finger extension becomes increasingly restricted due to the presence of the cords.

Stage 2 marks a significant progression in Dupuytren contracture, and individuals may start to experience difficulties with everyday tasks that require full finger extension or a firm grip.

Stage 3: Contracture

Stage 3 is the most advanced stage of Dupuytren contracture, characterized by significant finger contractures and limitations in hand function.

Key features of Stage 3 include:

  • Severe Contracture: Finger contractures become pronounced, with one or more fingers permanently bent towards the palm.
  • Functional Impairment: Hand function is significantly compromised, making it challenging to perform routine activities like grasping objects, shaking hands, or typing.
  • Pain and Discomfort: Some individuals in Stage 3 may experience pain and discomfort, particularly if inflammation is present.

Stage 3 represents the culmination of Dupuytren’s disease progression, and the degree of contracture can vary from mild to severe. Treatment options, which may include non-surgical or surgical interventions, are often considered to address the contractures and improve hand function.

Treatment Options

Non-Surgical Approaches

While there is no cure for Dupuytren contracture, several non-surgical approaches can effectively manage the condition, especially in its early stages or when the contractures are mild to moderate. These approaches aim to alleviate symptoms, improve hand function, and slow down the progression of the disease.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be beneficial for individuals with Dupuytren contracture. Therapists can provide exercises and techniques to improve finger flexibility and range of motion. They may also recommend therapeutic modalities to reduce pain and inflammation.


Custom splints or orthotic devices can help maintain finger extension and prevent further contracture. These splints are typically worn at night and can be effective in preventing more severe contractures, especially in the early stages of the condition.


Injections of medication into the affected cords can help soften and weaken the fibrous tissue, allowing for improved finger extension. The most common injectable medications used for this purpose include corticosteroids and collagenase (Xiaflex). Collagenase injections have gained popularity for their ability to break down the cords, making it easier to straighten the affected fingers.

Surgical Interventions

Surgical interventions are considered when Dupuytren contracture has progressed to the point where non-surgical methods are no longer effective or when the contractures are severe. The choice of surgical procedure depends on the individual’s specific condition and the surgeon’s assessment.


A fasciotomy involves making small incisions in the cords to release the contracture and restore finger extension. This procedure is typically less invasive than a fasciectomy and may be suitable for less severe contractures.


Fasciectomy is a more extensive surgical procedure in which the diseased tissue (nodules, cords, and affected fascia) is removed from the palm and fingers. This approach aims to correct contractures and prevent recurrence. There are different types of fasciectomy, including open, limited, and dermofasciectomy.

Needle Aponeurotomy

Also known as percutaneous needle fasciotomy or needle aponevrotomy, this minimally invasive procedure involves using a needle to puncture and divide the thickened cords, allowing for improved finger extension. It is often performed in an office setting and can be an option for selected cases.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Post-Surgery Care

After undergoing surgical intervention for Dupuytren contracture, whether it be a fasciotomy or fasciectomy, post-surgery care is crucial to ensure a successful recovery and optimize the outcome.

  • Wound Care: Proper wound care is essential to prevent infection and promote healing. Surgeons will provide specific instructions on cleaning and dressing the surgical incisions.
  • Immobilization: Depending on the surgical approach and extent of the procedure, the hand may be immobilized with a splint or dressing. It’s important to follow the surgeon’s recommendations regarding the duration and use of immobilization.
  • Pain Management: Pain and discomfort are common after surgery. Medications may be prescribed to manage pain during the initial recovery period.
  • Hand Elevation: Elevating the hand above heart level can help reduce swelling and promote circulation. This should be done as advised by the surgeon.
  • Physical Activity: While rest is important during the early stages of recovery, gentle hand and finger exercises may be recommended to prevent stiffness and improve mobility. These exercises should be performed under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
  • Follow-Up Appointments: Regular follow-up appointments with the surgeon are essential to monitor the surgical site’s healing, remove sutures or staples, and assess progress.

Physical Therapy After Treatment

Physical therapy plays a significant role in the rehabilitation process following treatment for Dupuytren contracture.

Here’s how physical therapy can benefit individuals after Dupuytren’s treatment:

  • Range of Motion Exercises: Physical therapists design exercises to improve finger flexibility and range of motion. These exercises can help individuals regain the ability to fully extend their fingers and perform daily activities.
  • Strength Training: Strengthening exercises target the hand and finger muscles. These exercises are crucial for restoring grip strength and hand function.
  • Manual Therapy: Therapists may use hands-on techniques to mobilize and stretch the affected tissues, helping to break down scar tissue and improve tissue pliability.
  • Education: Physical therapists educate individuals on proper hand and finger use, body mechanics, and strategies to prevent re-injury or recurrence of Dupuytren’s disease.
  • Pain Management: Therapists can employ modalities such as heat, ice, or ultrasound to manage post-surgery pain and inflammation.
  • Custom Splints: In some cases, custom splints or orthotic devices may be recommended to support the hand during recovery and prevent contracture recurrence.

Overall, physical therapy is an essential component of the rehabilitation process after Dupuytren contracture treatment. The goal is to restore hand function, minimize pain and discomfort, and help individuals regain their independence in daily activities. A customized rehabilitation plan, developed in collaboration with a physical therapist and surgeon, can lead to improved outcomes and a better quality of life.

Dupuytren Contracture



Recurrence is a significant concern in Dupuytren contracture, even after successful treatment. Dupuytren’s disease is a chronic condition, and while surgical interventions or other treatments can provide relief and improve hand function, they do not guarantee a permanent cure.

Recurrence can occur due to various factors:

  • Biological Factors: The biology of Dupuytren’s disease may predispose some individuals to recurrence. The condition can continue to progress in other areas of the palm or fingers or even in the same location where surgery was performed.
  • Incomplete Removal of Diseased Tissue: In cases of surgical treatment, if all the affected tissue is not removed, remaining nodules or cords may lead to recurrence.
  • Genetic Predisposition: Genetic factors play a significant role in Dupuytren contracture, and individuals with a strong family history of the condition may be at a higher risk of recurrence.
  • Post-Treatment Care: Compliance with post-surgery or post-treatment care recommendations, including physical therapy and hand exercises, can influence the risk of recurrence.
  • Age and Disease Progression: Younger individuals or those with more aggressive forms of Dupuytren’s may be more prone to recurrence.

Managing recurrence typically involves a combination of monitoring, further treatment, and lifestyle modifications to address new symptoms or contractures. Regular follow-up with is essential to detect and address recurrence early.

Potential Complications from Surgery

Surgical interventions for Dupuytren contracture, while effective in addressing contractures and improving hand function, can also be associated with potential complications. It’s essential for individuals undergoing surgery to be aware of these potential complications and discuss them with their surgeon.

  • Infection: Surgical sites can become infected, which may require antibiotics or further treatment. Proper wound care and post-surgery hygiene are essential to minimize the risk of infection.
  • Nerve and Blood Vessel Damage: Surgery carries a risk of injuring nearby nerves and blood vessels, which can lead to numbness, tingling, or other sensory changes in the hand. These complications are relatively rare but can occur.
  • Scarring: Surgical incisions can result in noticeable scars. Scar formation varies among individuals and may impact the hand’s appearance and sensation.
  • Stiffness: Following surgery, some individuals may experience stiffness in the hand or fingers, which can affect range of motion and function. Physical therapy is often recommended to address stiffness.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): This rare but severe condition can develop after surgery, causing persistent pain and swelling in the hand. Prompt recognition and treatment are crucial to manage CRPS effectively.

It’s important to note that while complications from surgery can occur, many individuals undergo surgical treatment for Dupuytren contracture with successful outcomes and minimal complications.

Living With Dupuytren Contracture

Adapting to Hand Changes

Living with Dupuytren contracture can present challenges as the condition progresses and affects hand function. Adapting to these changes and developing effective coping strategies can significantly improve one’s quality of life.

Here are some lifestyle and coping strategies for individuals with Dupuytren’s:

  • Assistive Devices: Consider using adaptive tools and devices designed to make daily tasks easier, such as utensils with larger handles, buttonhooks, or zipper pulls.
  • Hand Exercises: Regularly perform hand and finger exercises recommended by a physical therapist to maintain flexibility and strength in your hands.
  • Pacing Activities: Break down tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and take breaks as needed to avoid overexertion.
  • Occupational Therapy: Consult with an occupational therapist who can provide customized strategies and tools to optimize hand function and adapt to specific challenges.
  • Ergonomics: Make adjustments to your home and work environment to minimize strain on your hands, such as using ergonomic keyboards and modifying workstations.
  • Self-Care: Prioritize self-care, including proper hand hygiene and skin care to prevent complications, such as skin breakdown or infection.
  • Emotional Support: Seek emotional support from friends, family members, or mental health professionals if you are experiencing stress or anxiety related to Dupuytren contracture.

Support Groups and Resources

Connecting with others who have Dupuytren’s disease can provide valuable emotional support and information sharing. Support groups and resources can offer insights into coping with the condition and navigating its challenges.

  • Support Groups: Joining local or online support groups for individuals with Dupuytren contracture can provide a sense of community and a platform to share experiences, tips, and coping strategies.
  • Educational Resources: Explore reputable sources of information about Dupuytren’s disease, treatment options, and the latest research developments. Knowledge can empower you to make informed decisions about your care.
  • Patient Advocacy Organizations: Organizations dedicated to Dupuytren’s disease often offer resources, educational materials, and advocacy efforts to support individuals and raise awareness about the condition.
  • Healthcare Providers: Maintain open communication with your healthcare team to ensure you receive the most appropriate care and guidance for managing Dupuytren’s.
  • Psychological Support: If you are experiencing emotional distress related to Dupuytren contracture, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who can help you develop coping strategies and manage stress.

Remember that adapting to life with Dupuytren’s is a journey, and it’s okay to seek assistance and support when needed. Building a network of resources and connecting with others facing similar challenges can make the process more manageable and less isolating.

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