Simple things such as buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces are something most of us take for granted - but they can prove very difficult for people with a particular debilitating condition.
Dupuytren’s contracture is a common but disabling disease which causes one or more fingers to bend in towards the palm, slowly preventing sufferers from being able to perform basic tasks.
So far, treatment has mainly been restricted to surgery followed by a lengthy spell of physiotherapy - but now medics at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital have started to offer a new drug which straightens patients’ digits without them needing to go under the knife.
Self-employed decorator Michael Gascoigne, aged 68, from Bradway, has been affected by Dupuytren’s disease for the past four years.
The condition is caused when thickenings develop in connective tissue under the skin, resulting in lumps in the palm and fingers.
It often runs in families and is more common in people aged over 50, especially men.
“I just started to notice little awkward things,” said Michael. “I was putting my hand in my pocket and all the coins would drop on the floor, and I’d avoid shaking hands with people, too, as I wouldn’t be able to let go.”
The new treatment is being offered on a trial basis at the Northern General’s Sheffield Hand Centre, which is the only facility in Yorkshire to offer the drug, Xiapex.
The medication treats lumpy tissue in the hand through a special enzyme, which breaks down knotted areas in the palms.
Patients attend two half-hour outpatient clinics following an initial consultation, and receive four quick injections - three at the first visit, and one at the second. The fingers are also eased back into place at the second clinic visit.
Meanwhile, surgery can last up to two hours.
“The treatment was phenomenally good,” said Michael. “I was in the outpatients clinic for five to 10 minutes and the next day I could straighten my fingers again. Job done!”
The Xiapex treatment is being administered by specialist consultants Gill Rose and Stephen Bostock, and around 20 patients have benefited to date.
Studies have found that two-thirds of people given the drug could almost fully straighten their fingers again afterwards.
Miss Rose said: “We’re delighted to be offering Xiapex as an alternative to surgery for suitable patients.
“The injection allows patients to have treatment with similar outcomes to surgery, but with more patients able to return to normal activities within a week or two.
“In severe cases this could mean the difference between patients avoiding lengthy time off work, stiffness in the fingers and extensive visits to the hand therapists for rehabilitation.
“Surgery is still a very valuable option, but Xiapex has added a significant step forward in the overall management of this frustrating disease.”