WE use our hands for everything we do.

They are one of the most functional body parts - yet imagine having restricted movement and the impact that could have on daily life?

For many, such as Andrew Johnson, that is a reality. It is 15 years since the 56-year-old from Wibsey was diagnosed with Dupuytren’s contracture.

It occurs when connective tissue in the palm of the hand stiffens, causing one or more fingers to bend inwards. Over time, the connective tissue can stiffen to form a rope-like cord in the palm.

This can make it difficult for people to wash their face, put on gloves, shake someone’s hand, type on a computer keyboard or handle tools.

The father-of-three and grandfather of five from Wibsey explains two of his fingers curled into the palm of his hand making it difficult for him to wash and pick things up.

“It is awkward,” says Andrew, who works as a shop foreman for a Bradford shopfitting firm.

“It can be injury-related and I broke the bones in my hand about 20 years ago. Whether it was that that caused it, I don’t know,” explains Andrew, who also believes it can be hereditary.

“I had an operation about 10 or 11 years ago which fixed the problem but then about five years ago I started experiencing problems again.

“I got back in touch with my doctor and he referred me here. It’s in my feet as well but that doesn’t cause any pain.”

Andrew learned about the pioneering Xiapex treatment at Bradford Teaching Hospitals which involves a hand surgeon injecting patients’ fingers with an enzyme which dissolves hardened tissue.

Around 130 people a year receive treatment for the condition at Bradford Royal Infirmary (BRI).

People who meet referral criteria receive the injections in an outpatient clinic and return a few days later to see the consultant who literally cracks their finger to break the cord and allow movement again.

Before the treatment was agreed for use by the local NHS, patients had to wait until the condition was severe, and then the only option was surgery under general anaesthetic to release the tough cord.

This meant people could be out of action and off work for up to three months as they recovered and had intensive physiotherapy. They were also left with extensive scarring.

For some patients, surgery couldn’t fix the problem and they had to have their finger amputated to regain freedom of movement in their hand.

Andrew decided to undergo the pioneering treatment at Bradford Teaching Hospitals as daily life was becoming increasingly frustrating.

“When you go to get it seen to they ask you to put your hand flat on the table. I couldn’t do it but I can now,” says Andrew, referring to the new procedure which he found to be relatively straight forward.

“I would recommend it to anyone who has the same condition as I’ve had - you don’t even have to be put to sleep.”

Seven other patients were treated at the same time as Andrew, again with minimal problems and high satisfaction with the relief of their condition.

Consultant Hand Surgeon at Bradford Hospitals, Russ Jeffers said the new treatment was already making a huge difference to patients’ experience of care at the Trust as it had a high success rate and often fixed the condition without the need for surgery.

“It’s a game-changer, a real win-win situation,” said Mr Jeffers.

“Patients can come in for the treatment, go straight home and within a few days live a completely normal life again – that’s unheard of in the recent past when there was no alternative to full hand surgery.

“We’ve had excellent feedback from patients; most are very satisfied with the results.

“Even when a finger doesn’t return to being completely straight, patients are happy as their movement is so much better than it was.”

The treatment costs less than half the price of surgery, takes a fraction of the time, frees up hospital beds and can even be given to patients on blood-thinning medications like warfarin.

Clinics will run on a regular monthly basis at BRI to provide this new treatment for suitable patients.