Shankland Family Characteristics - 2 :

Dupuytrens Contracture

by Anne Shankland, UK

In another article, Shankland Family Characteristics, I discussed various mental and/or emotional Shankland family traits.

However, there are also physical features which characterise Shanklands, and one of them appears to be an unfortunate tendency towards Dupuytren's Contracture (alternatively known as "piper's pinkie", or "the curse of the MacCrimonds", i.e. the bagpipe-playing family). This is a rare condition, but one that is known to run in families, and it does seem particularly prevalent among the Shanklands.

Dupuytren's Contracture is a condition in which the connective tissue of the palm of the hand contracts and stiffens into a hard cord, bringing the ring finger and/or the little finger towards the palm and not allowing them to straighten out flat. It is normally treated by an operation to partially cut the restricting cord of tissue to release the fingers. It is named after the French surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren, who was the first to describe and develop a treatment for the disease in the 1830s.

My husband Ian has recently developed the first signs of the disease, in his left hand. His father has had it in both hands and has had operations on both hands which have been partially successful. In addition, Ron Shankland of Michigan USA tells us that his late father had also had the condition. And it is very probable that Robert Shankland of Australia, Ian's great-uncle, had the same problem when he writes home that he is "unable to straighten the fingers of his right hand" - he attributed it to rheumatism but it is much more likely to have been Dupuytren's.


Ian's father, Thomas Shankland, pictured about fifteen years ago, showing contracture of little and ring fingers of right hand. At this stage the left hand is not affected. Dupuytren's most often affects the right hand first, and usually the ring finger is bent inwards more than the little finger.
Close-up of Thomas's hands (about 30 months after first photograph, shortly before the operation) showing the increased contracture of little and ring fingers of the right hand, and the restricting cord formation in the palm of the hand.
About ten years later, Thomas's other hand (the left hand) has also become affected by Dupuytren's, but displays a more typical flexion of the ring finger only.

Dupuytren's Contracture was mentioned in a TV programme on UK BBC a few years ago, Blood of the Vikings. Although rare in the general population, it is known to be much more common in people of Nordic descent - in fact it has been used by geneticists as an indicator of "Viking blood"! Many Vikings settled in Scotland, Ireland, and the north of England, where the condition occurs in about 3%-5% of the present day population.

Anne Shankland, September 2006