NFL legend John Elway has opened up for the first time about a debilitating disorder that left him unable to hold a football.
Elway – the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Denver Broncos – spoke to TODAY about his battle with Dupuytren’s contracture – a hand deformity that causes tissue to knot under the skin of the palm.
The current Broncos general manager was diagnosed in 2004, six years after he retired at the end of the 1998 season.
As the condition worsened over time, both of his ring fingers were pulled into a bent position, unable to straighten.
Elway, whom sports analysts often hail as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, said he wants to encourage others to be proactive about their health and if they feel something is off in their hands to go see a specialist.
John Elway discussed his diagnosis of Dupuytren’s contracture, a hand deformity that causes tissue to knot under the skin of the palm, in 2004, on the TODAY show (pictured)
Both of Elway’s ring fingers were bent in towards his palm, unable to be straightened. Pictured: Elway (center) is carried by teammates Ed McCaffrey (left) and Bubby Brister (right) after the Denver Broncos defeated the Green Bay Packers to win Super Bowl XXXII in January 1998
‘I couldn’t pick up a football,’ Elway told TODAY. ‘For me, not to be able to pick up a football, that was an emergency.’
Dupuytren’s contracture is when the tissue beneath the skin of the palm thickens, causing nodules, cords, and contractures to develop.
In some cases, the cords can tighten and cause the fingers, generally the ring finger and the pinky, to bend in towards the palm.
Scientists are unsure of what causes Dupuytren’s, but there is no evidence that hand injuries or specific occupations increases the risk.
The former quarterback of the Denver Broncos underwent a non-surgical option to straighten his fingers two years ago. Pictured: Elway during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in January 1990
Because it often occurs in older men of Northern European descent, the disorder is also known as ‘Viking Disease’.
The condition may affect as many 15 million Americans age 35 and older, according to the Dupuytren Foundation.
Treatments includes cortisone injections, radiotherapy, topical medications and surgery in the most severe cases.
‘I wasn’t interested in more surgeries,’ Elway told TODAY.
‘I’ve had so many surgeries during my playing career. At that point in time, I didn’t want to have another one.’
The condition worsened for years until Elway said he opted for a non-surgical treatment two years ago that could straighten his fingers – although he didn’t specify what that was.
Currently, his fingers are straight again, but he says the fingers could bend in again at any time.
Elway has joined the Facts on Hand campaign to raise awareness for the disorder.
‘It’s a rather common condition, and a lot of people do have it, but they don’t get it diagnosed,’ he said.
‘If anyone is concerned they might have it, they should go see a hand specialist. If you’re diagnosed with it, I want people to realize that there are options to treat it.’
Elway’s fingers are currently straight, but they could constrict (pictured) again at any moment
He won back-to-back Super Bowls and is regarded as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Pictured: Elway (far right) on the TODAY show
Elway was drafted as the first overall pick by the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts before he was traded to the Denver Broncos, with whom he played all 16 seasons.
He appeared in five Super Bowls, losing three before winning back-to-back Super Bowls, one of only seven quarterbacks to do.
He has one of the highest winning percentages in the history of the NFL (148–82–1).
Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2004, in his first year of eligibility.