Herron dealing with early stages of Dupuytren’s contracture
November 06, 2018
By Helen Ross , PGATOUR.COM
- Tim Herron's younger sister and father both have Dupuytren’s contracture. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Everything starts with the grip, that very fundamental way the hands wrap themselves around the shaft of a golf club.
Without this marriage of fingers, palms and rubber, there’s no way to begin to execute a swing or make a putt.
Small wonder, then, that Tim Herron was concerned when he first noticed the tell-tale signs of Dupuytren’s contracture in his right hand.
Dupuytren’s, which is sometimes called the Viking Disease because it’s most common among people of Nordic descent, causes a gradual tightening of the tissue-like cords under the skin in the hand. As it progresses, fingers – most commonly the pinkie and ring finger – are drawn in toward the palm.
Herron’s father and younger sister both have Dupuytren’s. Treatment, when needed, can involve injections or using a needle to break the tissue that is keeping the fingers drawn. Surgery is another option.
Herron isn’t there, yet. But the four-time PGA TOUR winner is watching how the disease progresses.
“About seven years ago I saw that I was starting to get nodules in my hand -- things that kind of pop up,” he says. “And I noticed in the palm of my hand that I was starting to get a firmness in the cord.
“The cord is the thing that hardens and actually holds your fingers down towards your palm. My fingers have not gone towards my palm yet, but I do have a lot of lumps and bumps on the palm of my hand.”
Normally, Dupuytren’s isn’t very painful but it certainly impacts a person’s everyday life. Typing on a computer can be difficult. It’s hard to turn a doorknob or button a shirt or brush your teeth or stick a wallet in your back pocket. Even shaking hands can be a challenge.
But when you have to hold a golf club and beat balls on the range, then play 72 holes for a living, that’s a whole different level of impact.
“I hit a lot of golf balls and there’s a lot of wear and tear on my hand,” Herron says. “So, yes, I feel some fatigue and some pain after a nice ball-hitting session and especially when you're actually in the rough on the PGA TOUR.
“They like the rough up. So my club twists and turns because of the rough grabbing the club, and it can hurt because when the tendon moves side to side you get more pain than actually a pressure straight down on the tendon.”It’s one of those diseases where people think it might be carpel tunnel, trigger finger or even arthritis. And we just want to tell people that there's something also called Dupuytren's contracture out there and a lot of people aren't familiar with it.
For now, Herron is seeing a hand specialist and living with what he likes to call “Dupes.” He has also partnered with Endo Pharmaceuticals to promote awareness of the condition that affects about 15 million Americans over the age of 35. His sister, Alissa Herron-Super, who is also his agent, got the ball rolling.
Herron has done TV, radio and print interviews to help people become more aware of the disease. Booths with information about the condition have been set up at several PGA TOUR events -- Herron was even on hand to help man the one at the TOUR Championship -- and there’s also a website, factsonhand.com.
“I just wanted to be there because I'm passionate about getting the word out,” he says.
The key, Herron says, is recognizing what is happening to your hand so you can be proactive instead of reactive.
“It’s one of those diseases where people think it might be carpel tunnel, trigger finger or even arthritis,” he explains. “And we just want to tell people that there's something also called Dupuytren's contracture out there and a lot of people aren't familiar with it.”
While the disease doesn’t prevent him from playing golf, Herron says he does find himself compensating at times.
“When it was hurting out on TOUR, I'd shake with my left hand which people that were playing with me probably thought was strange,” he recalls. “I'd have to kind of tell them (what I had). Well, we don't want to get it. Oh, it's not that kind of disease. It's not contagious.”
Herron has also experimented of late with altering his grip to relieve some of the pressure and tension in his hands. The 48-year-old found the change more difficult than he expected it would be.
“What's that old saying, you can't teach an old dog new tricks?” he says, laughing. “I guess I’m at that age now.”
Herron is playing the TOUR this year out of the past champion category. As such, he doesn’t have the luxury of planning his schedule like fully-exempt players do. “So I pretty much play whenever they call me,” he explains.
If Herron could sit down and map out a plan, though, he says he probably would avoid courses with lush rough – and he would avoid too many consecutive weeks of competition. That way he could limit the impact on his hand.
At this point, though, Herron hasn’t needed any treatment. He figures his next step would probably be injections to help break up the cord that is drawing the fingers to his palm. Not that it’s on the immediate horizon, though.
“They said until my fingers get to a percentage where it's bent and I can't straighten, then that's when we'll start doing it,” he says.
In the meantime, though, Herron is looking forward to the 2018-19 season and turning 50 in February of 2020. That’s when the 23-year veteran will transition to the PGA TOUR Champions.
“I'm excited for the Champions Tour,” Herron says. “I want to play the Champions Tour as long as I possibly can.”
That’s why he’s being proactive about the Dupuytren’s he lives with every day.