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What is Sclerodactyly?

Sclerodactyly is a condition characterized by the thickening and tightening of the skin on the fingers, often resulting from an autoimmune disorder like scleroderma. This can lead to limited mobility and deformities. The visual transformation is stark, as fingers may appear shiny and taut. Curious about how this condition progresses and the treatment options available? Dive deeper into the journey of managing sclerodactyly.
Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke

Sclerodactyly is a condition in which the skin gradually hardens and becomes rigid. It typically affects the skin surrounding the hands and fingers. The condition does not usually develop on its own, but is generally a symptom of a rare disorder known as scleroderma.

Scleroderma, also referred to as scleriasis, is a type of disorder that causes tightening of internal organs, connective tissues, and skin. There are two main varieties of scleroderma: systemic and localized. Systemic scleroderma is more likely to cause hardening of internal organs and connective tissues, while localized scleroderma tends to occur on the skin only and result in sclerodactyly.

Sclerodactyly typically affects the skin surrounding the hands and fingers.
Sclerodactyly typically affects the skin surrounding the hands and fingers.

The main cause of sclerodactyly is collagen, a naturally occurring protein in the body that comprises the skin and connective tissues. Collagen has a rigid texture, similar to a very firm rubber. If the body makes too much collagen, it can build up and make the skin feel stiff and inflexible. It is usually the most noticeable in the hands and fingers because it prevents them from being able to bend properly.

When sclerodactyly first starts to develop, a person may notice his or her fingers start to swell, but not subside over time. As the condition progresses, a person’s fingers and hands may seem hard to the touch and have a shiny appearance. In the most severe cases, the hard texture of the skin on the fingers and hands may result in a person having difficulty moving or bending his or her fingers and hands.

No proven treatment exists to prevent the body from making the excessive collagen that causes scleroderma to form. The disorder is progressive, meaning it gradually gets more severe over time. A person with localized scleroderma and the resulting sclerodactyly will generally participate in physical therapy to learn how to deal with his or her decreased ability to use his or her fingers or hands. Flexible hand molds may be worn over the affected hands like gloves, which can enable a person with the condition to feel less self-conscious.

Sclerodactyly can have potential serious health complications. If the amount of collagen in the skin becomes high enough, it can prevent proper blood flow to the hands and fingers. An insufficient amount of blood flow to the hands and fingers can result in tissue damage. This tissue damage can cause gangrene, or decay of the tissue, which will often require the affected areas to be amputated.

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Discussion Comments


@nony - I don’t know that there is a cure, even though we know the basic cause. My guess is that working with a physical therapist would be your best bet.

Also, there might be adaptive keyboards (perhaps with larger keys spaced further apart) that would enable someone with this condition to continue carrying on with their daily routine if they used a computer.


This is awful! So what is it that causes the body to create too much collagen? I would hate to have this condition. My job requires that I type all day so this would be a deal killer for me.

I suppose I could get by with voice recognition software (if I worked from home) but really I prefer to work with my hands. I always heard that collagen was a good thing. It’s strange to discover that it can cause such a debilitating condition.

I think we need more scleroderma information if we are to prevent the onset of this terrible disease.

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    • Sclerodactyly typically affects the skin surrounding the hands and fingers.
      By: Laurin Rinder
      Sclerodactyly typically affects the skin surrounding the hands and fingers.