Dupuytren's contracture occurs when part of the layer of fat that holds the skin over the palm of the hand becomes inflamed and scared. It starts as a small nodule and slowly becomes a cord-like band that can be felt in the palm. Since this fat is connected to the fingers, as the thickening develops, the scared fat contracts and shortens, gradually pulling the fingers more and more into a bent (flexed) position that cannot be straightened.
Most often it's the little and ring fingers that are affected, although the other fingers and the thumb can be involved too. It can also affect the toes when the fat of the soles of the feet thickens in the same way.
No one knows why it happens, and often both hands are affected. It can run in families, and is associated with excessive alcohol, drugs for epilepsy, and smoking. Sometimes it appears to start after an injury to the hand is suffered.
Although early on it may not be a problem, as the months or years go by, the deformity generally becomes worse, such that it is difficult for someone to perform everyday tasks. As soon as this is the case, then treatment is needed.
It can be successfully treated with open surgery or a less-invasive surgical procedure called needle fasciotomy.