De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

What is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis?

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, also called radial styloid tenosynovitis, is a painful condition that affects the inside of the wrist. The two tendons that are located at the base of the thumb begin to swell, causing the tendons and the area around them to become inflamed. As a result, pressure is placed against the neighboring nerves, leading to a feeling of numbness and pain.

Women over the age of 40 are most at risk for developing de Quervain’s, although anybody can experience it when circumstances are right. It is commonly seen in people with jobs or hobbies that require repetitious wrist and hand movements. Pregnant women, patients with arthritis, and those who have previously injured their wrist and have developed scar tissue are also likely to encounter the condition.

What are the Symptoms of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis?

Patients dealing with De Quervain’s tenosynovitis experience a variety of different symptoms within and surrounding the affected area.

Symptoms include

  • Wrist pain below the thumb
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Fluid-filled cysts
  • Numbness
  • Squeaking sound with movement
  • Snapping or catching feeling with movement

The pain that accompanies this condition might also radiate up through the forearm. It can either set in without warning or develop gradually, and discomfort usually worsens with increased movement of the hand, wrist, and thumb.

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Causes

The cause of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is overuse of the wrist or thumb. Repetitive motions irritate the surrounding areas of the wrist and thumb tendons, leading to inflammation, triggering pain when the thumb moves. De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is also recognized as trigger finger – the noted effect is the snapping noise when the finger or thumb tries to move.

The most common causes of the condition are occupational, sports or home hobby activities involving repetitive functions. The second most frequent cause for the condition affects older adults between the ages of 30 and 50, due to the natural process of our tendons stiffening.

In some cases, an underlying disorder or disease, like an injury to the thumb’s joint or rheumatoid arthritis, causes De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. Similar to arthritis, the swollen tendons limit the movement and if neglected, the condition progresses. Women have a higher risk of stressing the tendons compared to men. The condition is commonly associated with mothers and families because of the increased activities using the thumbs and wrists –
Such as lifting and carrying children.

How is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Treated?

Therapies for de Quervain’s usually consist of physical therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. NSAID pain relievers and steroids reduce inflammation in the tendons and alleviate discomfort. Various stretches and massage techniques allow the tendons to exercise, while occupational therapy teaches patients how to continue their work while they have the injury. At home, following RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is beneficial in relieving discomfort. Sometimes a splint can be used to stabilize the wrist and help protect it while it heals.

In severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the problem.

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Prevention

You can prevent De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis by avoiding any repetitive movement causing pressure to the wrist and thumb tendons. In the event inflammation develops, the condition is treatable.

Early diagnosis combined with anti-inflammatory medication can prevent irreversible damage. Self-treatment techniques at home include ice packs, therapy and exercise to lessen the inflammation and alleviate the pain.

Talk with your doctor about preventing the disorder from accelerating to an acute medical condition. Your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers for moderate pain, but more severe pain may need steroid injections leading to surgery.

Your doctor will determine the best method of prevention for your health, if there are other health conditions provoking the disorder.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 12, 2017