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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of de Quervain's tenosynovitis

De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a painful wrist condition affecting the two tendons that control your thumb.

These two tendons are on the back of your hand, running down the back of your thumb and down the side of your wrist.

In de Quervain's tenosynovitis they get inflamed and swollen within the tendon sheath (which is like a tunnel that the tendons move through), so they can no longer slide smoothly when your thumb moves. This causes pain at the base of your thumb, especially when doing things like giving a thumbs-up, using scissors, grasping and pinching, or texting.

The base of your thumb may become swollen and tender to touch, or hard and lumpy. You might have symptoms in both wrists at the same time.

Causes of de Quervain's tenosynovitis

Health professionals aren't exactly sure what causes it, but repetitive actions make it worse. Once you develop the condition, physical activities at work, in the garden, and in sport can make it worse. If you're a new mum who is repeatedly picking up your baby from under their arms, for example, or a meat worker cutting meat with a knife all day, it's important to try to limit these repetitive movements.

De Quervain's tenosynovitis can happen after you have injured the back of your wrist, but for many people there is no obvious cause.

People aged between 30 and 50 are most likely to get it, and it's more common in women than in men.

You're more likely to get it if you're a woman in late pregnancy or with small babies. Hormones are thought to play a part, but it may also be related to the repeated wrist action involved in lifting a baby.

Diagnosing de Quervain's tenosynovitis

Your general practice team or physiotherapist will diagnose the condition after talking to you and examining your hand. You probably will not need any other tests, and an X-ray is useful only if your health professional thinks something else might be causing your pain.

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On the next page: Treating de Quervain's tenosynovitis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical directors, Plastic Surgery and Orthopaedics Departments, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed April 2021.


Page reference: 292002

Review key: HIDQT-329615