De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is painful swelling around your thumb tendons. Doing repetitive motions with your thumbs and wrist at work or for a hobby are the most common causes. Most people need to wear a splint and rest their wrist for a few weeks to recover. It’s rare, but you might need surgery to relieve pressure in your tendon sheaths.
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is painful inflammation around your thumb tendons. It’s also called de Quervain’s tendinosis or de Quervain’s tendinitis. Healthcare providers sometimes use these names interchangeably to refer to the same condition.
Tendons link your muscles to your bones. They’re cords of strong, flexible tissue, similar to a rope. When you contract (squeeze) a muscle, tendons pull the bones they’re attached to and make them move. Two tendons connect your thumb to your wrist.
Usually, tendons slide easily through a tunnel of tissue called a sheath. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis happens when something makes the sheath around your thumb tendons swell or thicken. This swelling causes extra friction when you use your thumb and wrist. When this happens, certain thumb and wrist motions are painful and more difficult. De Quervain’s tenosynovitis usually causes pain near the base of your thumb that can extend (radiate) into your forearm.
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is one of the most common forms of tenosynovitis. Experts estimate that it affects around 1% of people in the U.S. each year.
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The most common de Quervain’s tenosynovitis symptom is pain in your wrist on the same side as your thumb (the radial side). Some people notice the pain suddenly or all at once, but it can also develop over time. The pain usually:
Other symptoms include:
Anything that irritates your thumb tendons can cause de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. The most common causes include:
Activities that require you to perform repetitive motions while gripping an object tightly can cause de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, including:
Anyone can experience de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, but certain groups of people are more likely to develop it, including:
A healthcare provider will diagnose de Quervain’s tenosynovitis with a physical exam. They’ll examine your thumb and wrist. Tell your provider when you first noticed pain around your wrist and if any activities make it noticeably worse.
Healthcare providers use a physical motion called the Finkelstein test to diagnose de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Your provider will have you make a fist with your fingers wrapped over your thumb. Holding that fist shape, you’ll move your wrist up and down (as if you were shaking someone’s hand). This position and motion singles out your thumb tendons. If you have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, it’ll usually hurt when you move your wrist during the Finkelstein test.
A healthcare provider will usually suggest treatments for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis that manage your symptoms while your thumb tendons and their sheaths heal. The most common treatments include:
Your provider may suggest stretches and exercises that increase your wrist strength and flexibility. The most common exercise is gripping a tennis ball:
Your provider will tell you how often (and for how long) to stretch or exercise your wrist. Don’t exercise through pain. If any stretch or exercise hurts, stop and contact your provider.
Most people don’t need surgery to treat de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. But your provider might recommend surgery if other treatments don’t relieve your symptoms.
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis surgery is usually an outpatient procedure, which means you can go home the same day. Your surgeon will make a tiny cut (incision) in the sheath around your thumb tendons. This will give your tendons more space to move. Your surgeon will let you know what to expect if you need surgery, including how long you’ll need to recover.
Your provider will tell you how long you’ll need treatment for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Most people need to wear a splint or brace for a few weeks.
Don’t resume physical activities before your provider says it’s OK, even if you start feeling better. If you put too much pressure on your tendons before they’ve healed, you’re more likely to re-injure them.
The best way to prevent de Quervain’s tenosynovitis is to avoid overusing your thumbs and wrists:
It usually takes a few weeks for your tendons to heal after you’re diagnosed with de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. How long you’ll need depends on what caused the inflammation and how severe your symptoms are.
Ask your provider when you can resume physical activities. Don’t return to a sport, hobby or job motion that caused de Quervain’s tenosynovitis before your provider says it’s safe to.
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is very treatable and is usually a short-term issue. But if it’s not treated, it’s more likely that you’ll need surgery or experience complications. If you put too much pressure on your thumb tendons after you start experiencing de Quervain’s tenosynovitis symptoms, your tendon sheath can burst or your tendon may tear. It’s rare, but some people with untreated de Quervain’s tenosynovitis can permanently lose some function or range of motion (how far you can move a part of your body) in their thumb and wrist.
Visit a healthcare provider as soon as you notice pain or other symptoms of de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Don’t ignore symptoms, especially if they get worse during or after physical activity.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is swelling in the sheath around your thumb tendons. It can make it painful and hard to use your thumb and wrist. Fortunately, most people only need rest, at-home treatments and to wear a splint or brace for a few weeks while their tendons and tendon sheaths heal.
Tell your healthcare provider if you’ve started a new activity or hobby that puts pressure on your thumbs and wrists, or if you use your hands a lot for work. They’ll help you find ways to manage your symptoms and return to the activities you love as soon as it’s safe.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/14/2023.
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