Touching Lives - November 2007
Around 2 million people in the UK have Dupuytren’s disease, an abnormal thickening of the tissues below the skin in the fingers and palm of the hand. Cords and nodules form, causing discomfort.The cords gradually contract, meaning the fingers — often the little finger and the ring finger — bend into the palm.
Sufferers have difficulty stretching out affected fingers, which causes problems with simple tasks like reaching into pockets or shaking hands. Surgery is the only treatment, and can restore mobility in the fingers, but it is not a cure. Unfortunately the disease can return and in severe cases, people may have fingers amputated.
The success of surgery depends on the post-operative rehabilitative care. Some surgeons advocate using a static splint at night, which keeps the fingers straight, while others do not. Action Medical Research is funding a project aiming to find out whether night splints are beneficial after surgery.
Researchers at the University of East Anglia, led by Dr Christina Jerosch-Herold, are using their grant to recruit patients who are undergoing surgery for Dupuytren’s to take part in a clinical trial. One group of patients will wear customised splints at night for 6 months after surgery, people in the other group will not.The splints are designed to keep the fingers stretched out as much as possible without putting tension on the surgical wound.
Researchers will compare the recovery of patients in both groups to find out whether or not splints affect the speed of recovery, improvements in use of the hands and recurrence of the disease.
Everyone who undergoes surgery for Dupuytren’s will eventually benefit from this research. If splints are found to be ineffective, then patients will be spared the inconvenience of wearing them. It will also save money, as custom-made splints are expensive and their construction takes up a lot of therapists’ time.
In contrast, if splints are found to be beneficial, patients in the future will be more motivated to wear them and willing to adhere to their treatment — they will know that the benefits of splints have been rigorously researched.