The voice of cricket Jonathan 'Aggers' Agnew: The crippling hand condition that's been my biggest testJonathan Agnew suffers from Dupuytren’s contracture The sufferer's connective tissue under
the skin of the hand contracts pulling the fingers inwards'Aggers' has has eight surgeries on his hand



21:00 GMT, 25 August 2012

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew has had eight operations to his hand

Dupuytren's contracture: BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew has had eight operations to his hand

Despite eight operations, the BBC’s ‘Voice of Cricket’, Jonathan Agnew, remains plagued by a crippling condition of the fingers that, untreated, could have led to amputation.

‘Aggers’, 52, is a sufferer of Dupuytren’s contracture, in which the fingers gradually curl over into a claw-like state. Here he talks about this progressive condition.

If TV viewers look carefully at my right hand holding the microphone, they will see that my little finger is bent over at an extraordinary angle, and my index finger is curling inward.

This is the visible sign of my Dupuytren’s contracture, which is named after Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, the surgeon who first described an operation to correct the affliction in 1831.

If I hadn’t had eight operations to date, my hands could now be virtually useless. Recently, I was in my local pub in Leicestershire and, as I left, I reached out to shake the hand of the publican, Don, when I realised one of his hands was entirely curled in on itself.

This is what happens if you do not treat Dupuytren’s – the hand gradually contracts until it is little better than a claw. In some sufferers, amputation is the only relief.

While Dupuytren’s is not a painful condition, it seriously affects the quality of your life. I can no longer play the piano, which I love, and I am very conscious of it as I have to shake so many hands as a BBC cricket commentator.

Undoubtedly, playing cricket (I played county cricket for Leicestershire from 1979 to 1990 and have three England caps) has played a major part in my getting Dupuytren’s, owing to the repeated thumps of the ball into my hands. Quite a few cricketers have it, including Graham Gooch and David Gower.

Most sufferers have a genetic predisposition, and I have traced it to my mother’s side of the family: I have a first cousin who also suffers from Dupuytren’s.

I first noticed the symptoms when I was 40 – a bobble formed in the middle of the palm of my right hand. My sister-in-law, who is a GP, diagnosed it.

As the bobble hardened and began to spread into a cord-like band heading up into my little finger, the finger began to curl irretrievably towards my palm. It was very uncomfortable and performing small, everyday tasks became problematic.

Cause: The former professional cricketer and commentator say the years playing the game has has played a major part in getting Dupuytrens

Cause: The former professional cricketer, pictured commentating a game with former England captain Michael Vaughan, say the years playing the game has has played a major part in getting Dupuytren's

With Dupuytren’s, the connective tissue under the skin of the hand starts to harden and contract, creating a rope-like band that pulls the fingers inwards. No one really knows what causes it. It isn’t life-threatening, but it certainly affects the quality of your life – all of us need our hands for everything we do.

I began to worry about the effect on my career. As a journalist, how would I type And even simple things such as turning the handle on a door have become problematic and frustrating.

I had my first operation when I was 40, with a marvellous surgeon Hugh Henderson at a private clinic in Leicestershire. I’ve since had surgery at the Hand Clinic in Derby under Peter Lunn. The tightening connective tissue was cut, releasing the finger, and the relief is immediate. But I had to have my hands bandaged for some time afterwards.

Agnew's struggle: His condition has been his biggest test as a journalist and commentator

Agnew's struggle: His condition has been his biggest test as a journalist and commentator

I thought this might sort the problem
out, but then I noticed the fingers on my left hand were affected, too.
In the more recent operations, they have cut away more deeply at the
scar tissue.

But the biggest problem remains with my little finger on my right hand which, despite the numerous operations, is bent at a 45-degree angle.

It makes me feel extremely self-conscious, and the drastic solution would be to have it amputated, but I really don’t want to do that.

This would make it very hard for me to grip anything – as it is, I cannot perform simple tasks, such as rubbing suncream on to my wife’s back or drying myself after a shower.

I have also tried wearing splints on my hands to try to straighten the fingers, but as you can imagine, this is also disabling and makes getting about awkward.

So far, I have managed not to let the condition affect my work, but it is a concern and I know I am going to have to have further treatment.

As I am reluctant to have more surgery, I’m looking at the new, non-invasive treatments becoming available. At the moment, when I shake hands with people I can see them, if not actually recoil, look down at my hands.

This contracting tissue is also now wrapping itself around my index finger, and I need to have that sorted out. It isn’t the kind of condition you can just leave, as it will become worse and worse.

It feels as if I have a tight elastic band under my skin, which is always constricting.

I’m thankful that I still have my grip in both hands, but if I don’t have further treatment I could potentially lose that. Physiotherapy doesn’t help, as the problem lies under the skin, and it becomes physically impossible to straighten your fingers.

About two million people in the UK suffer from this condition, so I am keen to encourage more to have Dupuytren’s treated as soon as symptoms first emerge, because the longer you leave it, the more scar tissue forms and the more likely you are to lose mobility in the hand. Amputation is the most extreme treatment, but it can be necessary if all else fails.

Jonathan Agnew was talking to Diana Appleyard.