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What is wrist tendinitis (tendonitis)?
Wrist tendinitis (tendonitis) is inflammation in the tough tissues of your wrist that connect the muscles of your forearm to bones in your hand. There are about six tendons in your wrist that help you control your wrist, hand and fingers. Irritation and wrist pain can affect any of these tendons if you overuse them or sustain an injury such as a sprain.
One of the most common forms of wrist tendonitis is de Quervain’s tendinitis. It affects the tendons near your thumb. You can also get ulnar tendinitis, which is irritation of the tendons on the pinkie side of your hand.
Who gets wrist tendinitis?
People who perform activities that put a lot of stress on their wrists are at risk for tendinitis (tendonitis). New mothers and childcare providers who lift and hold babies for multiple hours each day are especially prone to this condition, often called “mommy’s wrist” another term for de Quervain’s tendinitis.
Other risk factors for wrist tendonitis include:
- Being assigned female at birth.
- Being older than 40.
- Having a history of tendon injuries or lateral epicondylitis (pain on the outside of your elbow).
- Having a job that involves repetitive wrist motions, such as being a cake decorator or hairstylist, using heavy machinery or typing on a keyboard.
- Having certain health conditions, such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
- Having certain infections.
- Playing sports that put a lot of strain on your wrists, such as gymnastics or basketball.
- Poor arm, wrist or hand position when typing, texting or doing other activities.
- Starting a new activity before properly conditioning your wrists.
- Pushing through pain when it occurs.
How common is wrist tendinitis?
Wrist tendonitis, such as de Quervain’s tendinitis, is rare. It occurs in about 0.5% of men and 1.3% of women.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes wrist tendinitis?
Wrist tendinitis (tendonitis) is typically the result of repetitive stress on the tendons in your wrist. A layer of lubricated tissue, called a tendon sheath, surrounds your tendons. Overuse can irritate the sheath, leading to inflammation and enlargement. Then it’s harder for your tendons to glide smoothly through the sheath, causing compression on your tendon and making wrist and finger movements painful.
What are the symptoms of wrist tendinitis (tendonitis)?
Symptoms of wrist tendinitis may include:
- Difficulty performing certain movements, such as opening jars or turning doorknobs, or lifting pets, babies or small children.
- Stiffness, “catching” or a popping sensation when moving your wrist or fingers.
- Swelling around your wrist or the bases of your fingers.
- Wrist pain, especially along the side of the wrist near the thumb or pinkie finger.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is wrist tendonitis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. They may palpate (press) on certain parts of your forearm, wrist, hand or fingers to check for swelling or tenderness. Your healthcare provider may also ask you to perform certain movements, such as forming a fist or rotating your wrist, so they can isolate the source of your pain.
Sometimes, symptoms of wrist tendinitis (tendonitis) are similar to those of other conditions that affect the wrist and fingers, such as:
- Arthritis causes painful swelling and inflammation in your joints.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is compression of a nerve in your wrist that can lead to numbness and tingling.
- Trigger finger occurs when inflamed tendons cause your finger to remain stuck in a bent position.
- Wrist fractures are breaks in the bones of your wrist.
Your healthcare provider may order imaging scans, such as an X-ray, MRI or ultrasound, to rule out these conditions.
Management and Treatment
How is wrist tendinitis treated?
Most people find relief from wrist tendon pain with a combination of conservative (nonsurgical) treatments. Your healthcare provider may recommend:
- Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend steroid injections in your wrist or near your finger joints.
- Physical or occupational therapy: Therapists can help you regain strength, mobility and range of motion in your wrist and fingers. They can also show you how to do everyday movements, such as typing or lifting objects, with less wrist pain.
- Rest: The most important treatment for wrist tendinitis is usually rest. Never push through wrist pain; try to avoid typing, lifting heavy items and rotating your wrist so your tendons can heal.
- RICE method: At-home treatments such as rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) can help minimize wrist swelling and pain. You can ice your wrist for about 20 minutes every two hours while keeping it elevated above the level of your heart. Be sure to place a towel between the ice and your skin to prevent any injuries to your skin.
- Splinting: A splint is a supportive device that stabilizes and immobilizes your wrist and sometimes your fingers. Your healthcare provider may recommend a custom splint, or you can use an off-the-shelf one.
Will I need surgery for wrist tendinitis (tendonitis)?
If your symptoms don’t improve after several months of conservative treatments, you may need surgery for wrist tendinitis (tendonitis). There are several approaches to wrist tendon surgery, but most involve:
- Cleaning the damaged tissue away from the tendon sheath.
- Making tiny cuts in the tendon sheath to release your tendon, giving it more room to move.
Wrist tendon surgery is usually an outpatient procedure, so you likely won’t need to stay overnight in the hospital. You may receive local, regional or general anesthesia. You’ll have a bandage or wrap on your wrist, and stitches typically come out after about two weeks.
What are the risks of wrist tendinitis surgery?
Wrist tendinitis is a safe procedure with a low risk of complications. But, like all surgeries, it does carry some risks, including:
- Nerve damage.
- Pain or a “pins-and-needles” sensation in your wrist or fingers.
- Poor or incomplete wound healing.
- Scar tissue formation.
- Tendon subluxation (tendon moves out of place).
How can I prevent wrist tendinitis (tendonitis)?
Tips for preventing wrist tendon pain include:
- Don’t overwork the tendons in your wrist or hand.
- Quit smoking.
- Stretch your wrists before physical activity.
- Take frequent breaks if you do a lot of typing or other activities that strain your wrists.
- Use a protective wrist splint or brace if recommended by your healthcare provider.
Outlook / Prognosis
What’s the prognosis (outlook) for people with wrist tendinitis?
Most people respond very well to treatment and don’t have long-term wrist damage or pain. After your wrist heals, physical therapy or occupational therapy can help you improve strength and mobility in your wrist. Therapists can also show you how to continue doing the activities you enjoy with less strain on your wrists.
After you have a tendon injury, you’re more likely to injure the tendon again. Be especially careful to protect your wrists when playing sports or performing repetitive movements. Most importantly, don’t push through pain. Pain is your body’s way of speaking to you, and you should listen to it.
When should I contact my doctor?
Contact your doctor if you:
- Are unable to move your wrist or fingers.
- Can’t make a fist or grasp objects.
- Frequently drop objects that you’re holding.
- Have severe, sudden pain in your wrist, hand or fingers.
- Notice swelling or discolored skin around your wrist.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Wrist tendinitis (tendonitis) is inflammation in the tendons that connect your lower arm to the bones in your fingers. The condition can cause pain when you grip and lift objects or move your wrist or fingers. Wrist tendon pain usually goes away with rest, medication, injections or splinting. Some people need surgery, though. If you have a job or play a sport that involves repetitive wrist movements, be sure to take frequent breaks to rest and stretch your wrists. Talk to your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
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