Understanding De Quervain's

Understanding De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis: Symptoms and Treatments

Our hands are incredibly versatile tools that we rely on for a multitude of daily tasks, from typing on a keyboard to gripping a steering wheel. But what happens when the simple act of moving your thumb becomes excruciatingly painful? This is a scenario that individuals with De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis may be all too familiar with.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, exploring its symptoms, causes, and the various treatment options available.

Anatomy of the Thumb and Wrist

Before we dive into the specifics of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, it’s crucial to understand the complex interplay of tendons, muscles, and bones in the thumb and wrist. The thumb, with its unique ability to oppose the other fingers, relies on a set of tendons that slide through a tunnel-like structure known as the tendon sheath. This sheath, located at the base of the thumb near the wrist, keeps the tendons in place during thumb movements.

What Is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis?

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is a condition that affects the tendons in the thumb and wrist. Specifically, it involves the tendons that control the movement of the thumb. When these tendons become irritated or inflamed, it can result in pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the thumb. This condition is often referred to as “washerwoman’s sprain” or “mommy thumb,” as activities like wringing out laundry or lifting a baby can exacerbate the symptoms.

Common Symptoms

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis presents with a range of symptoms that can vary in intensity. The most common signs include:

1. Pain: Aching or sharp pain at the base of the thumb or along the wrist is a hallmark symptom.

2. Swelling: Inflammation of the tendon sheath can lead to noticeable swelling.

3. Limited Thumb Movement: Difficulty moving the thumb, particularly when grasping or pinching.

4. Crepitus: Some individuals may experience a crackling or snapping sensation when moving the thumb.

These symptoms can make everyday activities, such as turning a doorknob or holding a cup, extremely uncomfortable.

Causes and Risk Factors

Understanding the causes and risk factors of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is essential for both prevention and treatment. This condition often develops due to:

1. Overuse: Repetitive hand and wrist motions, especially those involving forceful gripping or twisting, can lead to tendon irritation.

2. Age and Gender: De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is more common in women, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 50.

3. Inflammatory Conditions: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of developing this condition.


Diagnosing De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis typically involves a thorough physical examination by a medical professional. They will check for signs of tenderness and swelling in the affected area and may perform a simple test called the Finkelstein test. In some cases, imaging tests like ultrasound or MRI may be ordered to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Options

Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, ranging from conservative measures to more invasive interventions. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the condition and individual factors.

Conservative Treatments:

1. Rest: Avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms can help reduce inflammation.

2. Splinting: Wearing a splint or brace to immobilize the thumb and wrist can alleviate strain on the tendons.

3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation.


Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in managing De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. A physiotherapist can design a tailored exercise program to strengthen the muscles surrounding the thumb and improve range of motion. They may also employ techniques like manual therapy to alleviate pain and swelling.

Corticosteroid Injections:

For more severe cases, a healthcare provider may recommend corticosteroid injections. These injections deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to the affected area, providing rapid relief from pain and swelling. However, it’s important to note that the effects of these injections are usually temporary.

Surgical Interventions:

When conservative treatments fail to provide relief, surgery may be considered. The surgical procedure involves releasing the tendon sheath to create more space for the tendons to move freely. Post-surgery rehabilitation and physiotherapy are crucial for a successful recovery.

Preventing De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

Prevention is always better than cure, and there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing this painful condition:

1. Ergonomics: Pay attention to your hand and wrist positions during daily activities, especially repetitive tasks.

2. Use Assistive Devices: If your job or hobbies involve repetitive thumb and wrist movements, consider using ergonomic tools or assistive devices.

3. Rest and Stretch: Take regular breaks to rest your hands and perform gentle stretching exercises to keep your tendons limber.

Final Thoughts

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis can significantly disrupt daily life by causing pain and limiting thumb movement. However, with proper diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan, individuals can find relief and regain function.

Whether through conservative measures, physiotherapy, or in some cases, surgical intervention, the goal is to alleviate discomfort and restore the dexterity of this essential digit.

If you suspect you may have De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, consider consulting Melbourne Hand Therapy. With a team of highly skilled physiotherapists, we offer specialised care and tailored treatment plans to meet your specific needs.

Please call us today (03) 9899 8490 or leave an enquiry and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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