Can Dupuytren contracture recur after I have hand surgery?

Recurrence of Dupuytren contracture is common and impossible to predict

In general, Dupuytren contracture recurrence means that is spite of hand surgery, the shortened, thickened tissue appears to return to the area of previous surgery, but actually is a continuation of the extension or progression of the disease into tissue previously unaffected.  Many surgeons openly speculate that Dupuytren contracture surgery accelerates the rate and extent of the disease progression.

In broad terms, the rate of Dupuytren’s recurrence after needle aponeurotomy (palmar fasciotomy) is considerably higher than for traditional open hand surgery (palmar fasciectomy).

Avoid surgery if possible with natural Dupuytren treatment

Any type of hand surgery done to release the contractures of Dupuytren disease can eventually result in the return of more contractures.  This recurrence if followed by another hand surgery can result in the return of more contractures eventually.  While this cycle of surgery and reappearance of more contractures proceeds, the patient is exposed to the potential risks of hand surgery each time it is done: permanent numbness, reduced finger movement, reduced hand strength, reduced sensations and pain.

To avoid this cycle the patient should consider the use of a brief therapeutic trial of Alternative Medicine as a conservative and essentially risk free option that could make surgery unnecessary.

Dupuytren’s surgery, even when done well, can have bad unintended consequences as well as stimulate the recurrence of additional nodule and cord formation in the palm.  Since 2002 this website has suggested that anyone with Dupuytren contracture should first consider conservative treatment options before attempting irreversible surgery.  To learn about Alternative Medicine self-management, please see Different Way of Looking at Dupuytren Contracture Treatment

What is Dupuytren contracture recurrence?

The wide range of recurrence rates represent only gross estimates because there is no formally accepted definition of this term, so what characterizes a reappearance of Dupuytren contracture varies from one study or doctor to the next.  Recurrence of Dupuytren contracture can be:

  1. A finger or hand that received a prior Dupuytren surgery had to be operated on again for any one of a variety of reasons.
  2. The condition of a finger or hand worsened after hand surgery, without evidence of even initial improvement.  Sometimes the worsening is determined to be any degree of flexion deformity greater than prior to surgery, and sometimes must be a 5-10 degree increase.
  3. The condition of a finger or hand was initially good after Dupuytren surgery, but after time some degree of finger flexion returned to that finger or hand.  Sometimes the return is determined to be any degree of flexion deformity greater than the level of correction initially provided after surgery and sometimes it must be a 20-30 degree increase greater than the level of correction initially provided after surgery.

“The greatest French surgeon of the 19th century,” Guillaume Dupuytren, battled with the problem of reappearance of this disease after surgery. He experimented with a variety of tactics and methods to minimize the return but none were totally successful, just as it is today.

How often does Dupuytren contracture come back after hand surgery?

The general consensus is that after having conservative surgery by needle aponeurotomy, 50% of patients see a return of the same or worse contracture just three years later.  But after having more invasive open hand Dupuytren surgery, 50% of patients will notice a reappearance of the same or worse contracture five years later.  It seems that Dupuytren contracture will tend to come back over time to the same 50% group, but for needle aponeurotomy patients it happens much sooner.

In 2011 the partial fasciectomy is still the most common surgery for Dupuytren contracture.  In this operation the diseased tissue is completely removed and perhaps parts of the palmar aponeurosis might also be excised.  In 1990 McGrouther reported after this kind of surgery anywhere from 2 to 63% of surgery patients will have their Dupuytren tissue changes  reappear, while in 2007 Schwartz reported 44% recurrence after these same surgeries.

MedScape News Today reported in February of 2011 that contracture recurrence rates range from 27% to 80% after palmar fasciectomy (open hand surgery), and are highest  when this technique is used on  the PIP joints of the fingers. This same Medscape commentary reported 65% to 85% contracture problems recur after palmar fasciotomy (needle aponeurotomy).

Little information for laypeople about Dupuytrens returning after hand surgery

Many patients research on the web or elsewhere for information about Dupuytren contracture surgery.  Usually they find little information explaining that the palmar nodes and cords often   reappear a few years, sometimes as soon as one year, after surgery.  While attempting to learn about Dupuytren surgery from a medical website – and recurrence in particular – the reader will often encounter only a single sentence that mentions the word “return” or “recurrence,” with rarely any discussion or statistics to explain the scope or frequency of the problem.  A large medical website promoting palmar fasciectomy or needle aponeurotomy might only comment, “After surgery, a therapy program of massage, wound care, exercises and night time splinting is important to get the best possible result and prevent recurrence.”

While it can be said that such a website does inform people about the possible return of Dupuytren contracture after surgery, the usual mention is so vague and casually presented that a potential surgical patient will not understand the rather high rate at which the nodules and cords come back after being surgically removed.  With limited information being the norm it is difficult for anyone to develop a clear understanding of how often, how quickly, and how problematic is this return of the Dupuytren’s contracture problem after undergoing a surgical release of the constricted fingers.

It is almost as though the popular medical information sources are reluctant to reveal that while Dupuytren surgery can improve the palm and finger contractures for the short term, the results are somewhat temporary and have no beneficial effect on the eventual progression of the disease.

This would explain why over the years the majority of people I encounter through the Dupuytren Contracture Institute are completely surprised and unprepared when they have a reappearance of their hand contractures after surgery; most thought that once they had the  hand operation their problem was solved and would not come back again.  Over and over I learn these people were not told about Dupuytren’s recurrence by their surgeon, or that the idea of needing a second operation was presented as a genuine rarity.  It is a serious problem when patients cannot provide informed consent for their hand surgery because they have not been given adequate information about the post-surgical return of Dupuytren nodules and cords.

Final comment, Dupuytren reappearance after hand surgery

In 1964 Weckesser stated. “In general, the longer the follow-up period [after Dupuytren’s disease surgery], the lower the percentage of good results.”  This means, of course, that surgery for Dupuytren’s contracture does not stop the disease process or prevent its return, but only provides a temporary break from the contractures. This would not be too bad if the time between surgeries was longer or if side effects, or complications from surgery did not make the problem worse for some patients over time.

Better to avoid the first hand surgery if possible.