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De Quervain's Tenosynovitis

  • What is de Quervain’s tenosynovitis?

    De Quervain's tenosynovitis

    De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. With repeated movements, the tendons that move the thumb become constricted in a tight tunnel, creating pressure on nerves, which leads to pain and numbness.

  • The usual cause of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is chronic overuse of the wrist from daily, repetitive movements. It’s a common affliction among mothers from activities such as cradling an infant while nursing, lifting a child into a high chair or car seat, or carrying heavy bags of groceries.

    Risk factors for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis include:

    • Being a woman
    • Aged 40 years and above
    • Work or hobbies that involve frequent, repetitive hand and wrist motions
    • Past wrist injury, as scar tissue can restrict movement of tendons
    • Pregnancy, due to hormonal changes
    • Arthritis
  • Pain from De Quervain’s tenosynovitis may develop gradually or appear suddenly. The main symptom is pain or tenderness over the wrist joint near the base of the thumb, which may also radiate up the forearm.

    Other symptoms include:

    • Pain that gets worse with the use of your hand, thumb or wrist
    • Pain beginning as an aching sensation and progressing to a point when any movement of the wrist or thumb produces a sharp pain in the affected area
    • Numbness along the back of your thumb and index finger
    • Swelling near the base of your thumb, where the pain is felt
    • A ‘snapping’ sensation or feeling a catch when you move your thumb
    • A squeaking sound when the tendons move

    If you experience persistent pain with little or no relief from rest, using a cold compress or anti-inflammatory medication, it’s best to speak to your doctor.

  • Treatment usually includes:

    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease the pain
    • Steroid injections to ease pain and swelling
    • Wearing a splint to rest the area

    If the symptoms persist without improvement, day surgery may be recommended. Surgery for De Quervain's tenosynovitis is almost always successful and you will regain normal use of your hand upon recovery.

    Consult an orthopaedic specialist to learn more about treatment options best suited for your condition.

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  • When De Quervain's tenosynovitis is left untreated, the pain may spread and radiate into the forearm. The pain may also become more intense while performing simple tasks which involve the use of the thumb, such as pinching or grasping.

    Over time, it will become difficult to use your hand and you will likely experience increasingly limited range of wrist motion.

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