De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

By Ann Morley, Occupational Therapist at Southwest Health

Do you have pain and difficulty turning a key to start your car, turning the pages of a book, or when holding your phone?  If you do, you may have a condition called De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

De Quervain’s is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. The tendons are pulley-like structures that attach muscle to the bone.  These two tendons in your lower thumb and wrist glide through a tunnel that connects to the base of the thumb.  Repeating a particular movement may irritate these tendons and cause thickening and swelling, which makes it harder for them to move.

The exact cause isn’t known, however activities that require repetitive hand or wrist movement like gardening, golfing, and lifting a baby can make it worse. It can also occur if you injure your wrist or suffer from inflammatory arthritis.

Signs and Symptoms

Pain at base of thumb
Swelling at base of thumb
Difficulty moving thumb and wrist
Pain or difficulty grasping or pinching

 Risk Factors

More common in females
Higher risk for people who are 30-50 years old
Caring for a baby
Hobbies/job involving/requiring repetitive thumb and wrist motion


The goal of treating De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is to reduce inflammation, prevent recurrence, and preserve range of motion.  If treatment is initiated when your symptoms first begin, symptoms should improve within 4-6 weeks.

Your doctor may refer you to Occupational Therapy.  An Occupational Therapist will show you how to use your hand and wrist to relieve stress on those tendons and teach you exercises to strengthen muscle, which will help reduce pain.  An Occupational Therapist may also give you a splint to wear temporarily to relieve tendon irritation.

If you have any of the above symptoms or think you may have De Quervain’s tenosynovitis please call your primary care provider or the Orthopedic Institute at Southwest Health at 608-342-4748.


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