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What is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis?

Physio&SoleClinic Physiotherapy, Wrist Pain February 17 2022

asian mother carrying baby

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is a painful condition that affects the tendons at the thumb side of your wrist.

The sheath covering of the tendons at the thumb side of the wrist becomes swollen and thickened, restricting the tendons’ movement. The result is pain at the base of your thumb.


anatomy of hand
De Quervain syndrome vector illustration. Labeled thumb inflammation scheme. Painful disease diagnosis anatomical explanation. Hand tendon sheath covering pathology diagram. Chronic health problem.

Although the cause of De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis has not been fully understood, excessive overuse of the wrist has been associated with this condition. 

In order to move the wrist and thumb, the tendons have to glide smoothly under the extensor retinaculum that holds them in place. Repeated gliding of the tendons may irritate the tendon sheaths causing them to swell and thicken, resulting in pain.

Other potential causes include direct injury to the thumb or wrist, and inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Who commonly gets it?

Asian mother playing with baby on couch

People between 30 to 50 years old have a higher risk of developing this condition, with women having a higher likelihood of developing this condition than men.

Pregnant women are also at risk of developing this condition which could be due to water retention during pregnancy.

This condition also has the nickname of “Mummy’s Thumb” and is common in new mothers. Lifting up your child from under his or her armpits with your thumbs extended may cause this condition to develop.

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis also commonly affects people who engage in activities that require repetitive hand or wrist movements such as typing, cooking, marking scripts, playing a musical instrument, gardening etc.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms experienced include pain and swelling at the base of the thumb. Pain may radiate into the forearm and distally to the thumb.

Pain is usually exacerbated by activities that involve grasping, pinching, lifting up objects, and repetitive movement of the thumb.

Symptoms typically improve with rest or immobilisation of the thumb and wrist.

Treatment Options

  1. Immobilisation of the thumb and wrist through splinting to help rest the tendons by reducing friction around the tendon sheath.
  2. Your physician may prescribe physiotherapy to decrease pain and inflammation, improve function, range of motion, and strength of the wrist and thumb.
  3. Your physician may also prescribe you anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling.
  4. Corticosteroid injections may also be administered for pain relief and to reduce inflammation.
  5. Should conservative management fail, your doctor may consider surgery. Surgery may comprise of decompression and release of the affected tendons in the thumb.

How can we help?

Your physiotherapist can help to reduce pain and inflammation by using modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound and soft tissue massage. You may be prescribed with range of motion or stretching exercises for your thumb to improve the movements of your thumb.

Your physiotherapist might also introduce progressive strengthening exercises for your thumb and wrist.

Once your pain has reduced, your physiotherapist will work with you to help you return to the regular activities that you enjoy doing.

Don’t ignore the pain if you are experiencing this condition. At Physio & Sole, our physiotherapists are able to help treat this condition so you can continue doing your daily activities with ease. Make an appointment to see our physiotherapists today.

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