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By Brittany Ferri September 29, 2020

Due to COVID-19, many people are fearful about visits to the hospital and even routine doctor's appointments. Even though regularly visiting the doctor is considered a sound health practice, it's not uncommon for people to opt out of these check-ups in recent months. Many people who especially need routine doctors visits are the ones that may be most concerned about their safety. This is especially the case for people who are considered "at risk," those with several health conditions, and people over the age of 60.

The good news is that, if you are concerned that you may have Dupuytren's contracture, there are several practices and tests you can do at home to get a better idea about potential signs and symptoms that may be impacting your hands.

Feel for any abnormalities

The very first thing you need to do is check for any nodules that may be present in the palm of your hand. You can do this by taking one or two fingers from the opposite hand and running them along the entire palm. Then switch and do the same to your other hand. If you feel any bumps or knots, these may be nodules that have developed in the tissue. Take note of their size, exact location, and whether they are tender or not. It will be important to notify your doctor of your findings and to keep a close eye on them over time.

The next step is to check for any tightness in between the fingers. If you feel any degree of pulling on your fingers (that does not come from you moving), you can try another test called the tabletop test. We will detail this next.

Another abnormality is difficulty with sensation. As contractures worsen and scar tissue forms, the thin and receptive skin on the hand and fingers may not be able to experience different temperatures effectively. Test yourself by taking an ice cube from the freezer. Lightly press it against each finger one at a time. Are you able to feel the full extent of the coldness? Does one finger seem more sensitive to the cold than the others? Try doing this with heat, but be careful as to not get burned. Microwave a hot pack and test it out in the same way. Can you feel the heat evenly across all fingers?

This can place you at risk, so it's important to report back to your doctor about this symptom (and the others). Our ability to generally recognize temperatures and other sensations is what keeps us safe and helps us avoid painful circumstances. Take note of your observations and let your doctor know what you find.

The Tabletop Test

This test is simple, easy to do, and will give you a good sense of whether or not you have Dupuytren's in just a few seconds. All you need to do is place your palm face down flat on a hard surface, such as a table. Ideally, you should be able to keep your fingers flat on the table, side by side, and not experience pain or place too much stress on your fingers or palm. If you can do this without any of those issues, then you likely don't have Dupuytren's. However, someone who struggles to do this for even a short period of time or cannot get certain fingers entirely straight is far more likely to be diagnosed with Dupuytren's.

Observe your ability to use your hand 

Two of the most important functions of the hand are grasping and pinching. Whether you have a strenuous job or not, this is something people do multiple times per day, often without even realizing it. These are also majorly impacted by Dupuytren's. Grasping, also known as gripping, involves the use of the entire hand in a "power stance." This is often used to seize things that require a fair amount of force to either carry items or move them in a certain way.

Pinching, on the other hand, requires more precision and fine motor control, so it's a more refined and detailed movement. When someone pinches, it involves individual fingers. Sometimes three fingers are used to pinch, but it most often entails the concentrated use of two fingers - usually the thumb and index finger.

Test this out around the house. Grasp a doorknob firmly with one hand. Are you able to get your fingers all the way around the doorknob and twist it to open? Pinch the wand that lets you close the blinds on your windows. Are you able to hold it between your index finger and thumb?

If you notice any major issues in even one of these three areas, it's important to mention this to your doctor. This will not only speed up the diagnostic process by getting all the facts straightened out, but it will also help your doctor understand the impact that your symptoms are having on your daily life. This allows you to get the treatment you need more quickly so you can move around like you need to.

Brittany Ferri
Brittany Ferri

Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who has 6 years of clinical experience treating conditions such as Dupuytren's, arthritis, carpal tunnel, and more. She is passionate about educating others about their health.