Applied Evidence

Dupuytren’s disease: How to recognize its early signs

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Palmar skin dimpling and nodule or cord formation signal advancing disease. Treatments vary in effectiveness—in part, depending on condition severity.


› Evaluate patients with suspected Dupuytren’s disease (DD) for coexisting conditions such as Ledderhose disease and Peyronie’s disease. C

› Use the Hueston tabletop test to assess severity of DD. C

› Do not recommend stretching exercises for DD; they can hasten disease progression. C

Strength of recommendation (SOR)

A Good-quality patient-oriented evidence
B Inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence
C Consensus, usual practice, opinion, disease-oriented evidence, case series



CASE A 52-year-old right-hand-dominant white man arrived at our clinic complaining that he was unable to straighten his right ring finger. He had no associated pain or numbness, and had not injured his hand. The patient had type 2 diabetes that was controlled with metformin. He had no history of surgery or drug allergies, did not smoke, and said he drank 2 to 3 alcoholic beverages per day. He was a car salesman and was self-conscious when shaking hands with customers. On physical examination, we noted that he held his right ring finger at roughly 45 degrees of flexion at the metacarpophalangeal joint; a painless cord-like structure was palpable on the palmar surface of that joint. His left hand had no abnormalities.

If this were your patient, how would you proceed?

Dupuytren’s disease (DD) is a disabling fibroproliferative disorder of the hand for which there is no cure. While the exact cause of DD is unknown, it has been linked to a number of risk factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, and diabetes. It affects about 5% of the US population, and up to 70% of affected individuals may initially seek treatment from a primary care physician.1 The disease is also referred to as Dupuytren’s contracture, which describes the flexion contractures of fingers at the end stage of the disease. Palmar fibromatosis is yet another name for the disorder.

DD refers to a spectrum of presentations ranging from nodules to cords to discernible contractures, and it is not known which patients with early Dupuytren changes will progress to severe contracture. With recognition of early changes, nonsurgical intervention is possible, such as collagenase injection or percutaneous fasciotomy, and can slow the progression of DD, restore function, and avoid or delay surgical intervention. DD is a clinically challenging disorder. Treatment for an affected area may resolve symptoms, only to have them recur in that location or another.

How underlying pathology correlates with clinical findings

DD affects the palmar fascia, a thick triangular-shaped sheet of dense fibrous collagenous connective tissue that lies deep to the dermis and superficial to the flexor tendons of the hand with fibers extending both into the skin and into the deep tissue. The palmar fascia secures the skin during gripping and twisting motions, and it bifurcates into distal extensions, called pretendinous bands, that overlay and mimic the flexor tendons.

Clinical findings reflect the progression of underlying pathology. The earliest manifestation of DD is painless dimpling of the skin on the palmar surface of the hand.2 Over time, the underlying fibrosis with increased collagen deposition can progress, leading to development of nodules and eventually, cords, which are sometimes mistaken for flexor tendons. Dupuytren-like fibrotic tissue can occur on the sole of the foot (Ledderhose disease) and penis (Peyronie’s disease).2,3 In patients with these coexisting conditions, prognosis is generally worse.4 With the hands, bilateral involvement is common, although it is usually more severe in one hand. The ring finger is the digit most frequently involved, followed by the little finger, middle finger, and index finger. The thumb is rarely affected.3

As the disease progresses and cords contract, the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints develop flexion contractures. The distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint, rarely involved, instead exhibits a hyperextension contracture. Digital flexion contractures are often disabling, interfering with daily activities such as picking up a glass, shaking hands, or putting one's hand in a pants pocket. Many patients seek medical attention only after a palpable nodule, cord, or flexion contracture becomes apparent (FIGURE 1).

The nodule, cord, and contracture seen in Dupuytren's disease image

In a study of 326 patients who reported Dupuytren’s symptoms, the most common symptoms that led them to seek treatment were, in descending order, a hard bump (48%), a ropelike growth (12%), dimpling (11%), and finger contractures (10%). Only 9% of patients seeking treatment for hand symptoms associated with DD had received a diagnosis of DD from their initial medical encounter, causing an unnecessary delay in treatment.1

Who is at increased risk for DD?

DD is most often seen in elderly white men of European descent.5 In the United States, the prevalence of the disease is roughly 5%,1 compared with 4% to 39% in northwestern Europe (eg, Iceland).6 The male-to-female ratio of DD ranges from 6:1 to 15:1.7 The prevalence of DD appears to increase with age. The prevalence in men and women is similar up to age 45 years, after which the rate is much greater in males.7

DD is associated with many risk factors including smoking, alcohol consumption, vascular insufficiency, epilepsy, hyperlipidemia, manual labor, occupations with exposure to vibration, hand trauma, and even hand surgery such as carpal tunnel release or trigger finger release.8-11 It is also associated with diabetes; particularly type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes.12 There may also be an association with frozen shoulder.12,13

The need for surgical treatment of DD becomes more likely with a history of cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. There seems to be an association with epilepsy, most likely from anti-epileptic drugs.14 Rheumatoid arthritis is the only condition that has been associated with a lower incidence of DD, possibly because of the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.15 There are genetic differences between patients with and without DD, although a “Dupuytren’s gene” has not been identified.

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