In some patients the extent of the Dupuytren's tissue can be excessive, instead of a simple cord or nodule, there can be a diffuse matting of fibrous tissue. This can involve the overlying skin and is a particular feature in recurrences and also when the disease affects the little finger especially in younger people.
If surgery is required then a simple operation may not be adequate to control the disease and a more extensive procedure may be necessary. I refer to this procedure as a resurfacing job. It involves removing the skin and underlying fibrous tissue, whilst carefully preserving the nerves and blood vessels and then applying a full thickness skin graft. I usually take this from the inside of the upper forearm. This operation takes much longer than the simple procedures and the risks and potential complications are higher. The outcome is significantly improved in non-smokers.
On discharge from hospital an appointment will be made to see a hand therapist within one week of the surgery. At home keep your hand elevated in the sling provided for the first week to reduce excessive swelling and bleeding. This elevation is absolutely critical to the outcome as it reduces the swelling and improves the chances of graft healing (see General Advice). Remember to regularly move the fingers which are not contained in the dressings/bandages, and to move your shoulder and elbow out of the sling to prevent other joint stiffness and complications (always keeping the hand above heart height).
The hand must be kept clean and dry to prevent infection and avoid softening any plaster of paris splints under the bandaging. A plastic bag may be placed over the dressings and fastened securely for showering (aqua-shields may be purchased from some chemists for this purpose).
The dressings will be taken down by your therapist at your first appointment, and both the donor site and hand wound checked. The appearance of the wound may be a surprise to you, but do not worry they always look similar to the picture.
The therapist will then apply a light dressing and fashion a removable thermoplastic splint to hold your finger(s) out straight. This must be worn at all times, except when you are asked to perform your exercises.
Between two to three weeks post surgery, if the graft has taken then the dressing can then be left off and you will be able to wash the hand.
The healing of the new graft site in your hand will depend on your natural healing ability. However it can take up to three to four weeks before fully healed. The redness in the graft will gradually fade until it assumes a more normal skin colour. Usually by three weeks most hands have healed sufficiently to be free of dressings but we recommend wearing a cotton glove for protection. It is possible that you may be safe to drive at this stage but that will depend upon the wound healing and the requirement for dressings. Whether it will be safe for you to return to work will depend entirely upon the nature of your job. You do not want to compromise your recovery for the sake of a few days of work. If you have any office job then once the graft is clearly healing well then it may be safe for you to return to work. I do not recommend flying until the wounds are totally healed which probably means at least four week post-surgery for most people.
Gentle exercises will begin one to two weeks post surgery to regain range of movement in your hand. Please be guided by your therapist as excessive movement may reduce the healing of the wound, while not enough movement leaves you at risk of complications. There is a real risk of increasing stiffness by aggressively trying to work the fingers too hard - be warned!
When the wound is fully healed, your therapist will teach you to massage your wound with E45 or aqueous cream to soften the scar tissue combined with stretches to extend your fingers. This is essential to your rehabilitation. Depending on your recovery you may be required to wear your splint at night for 6 months and occasionally up to one year.