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De Quervain's tenosynovitis

De Quervain's tenosynovitis (dih-kwer-VAINS ten-oh-sine-oh-VIE-tis) is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. If you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis, it will probably hurt every time you turn your wrist, grasp anything or make a fist.

Although the exact cause of de Quervain's tenosynovitis isn't known, any activity that relies on repetitive hand or wrist movement — such as working in the garden, playing golf or racket sports or lifting your baby — can make it worse.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Symptoms of de Quervain's tenosynovitis include:

  • Pain near the base of your thumb
  • Swelling near the base of your thumb
  • Difficulty moving your thumb and wrist when you're doing activities that involve grasping or pinching
  • A "sticking" or "stop-and-go" sensation in your thumb when trying to move it

If the condition goes too long without treatment, the pain may spread farther into your thumb, back into your forearm or both. Pinching, grasping and other movements of your thumb and wrist aggravate the pain.

When to see a doctor

Consult your doctor if you're still having problems with pain or function and you've already tried:

  • Avoiding moving your thumb in the same way over and over again whenever possible
  • Avoiding pinching with your thumb when moving your wrist from side to side
  • Applying cold to the affected area
  • Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve)

If the pain continues to interfere with your daily life or activities, seek medical advice.

Chronic overuse of your wrist is commonly associated with de Quervain's tenosynovitis.

When you grip, grasp, clench, pinch or wring anything in your hand, you use two major tendons in your wrist and lower thumb. These tendons normally glide unhampered through the small tunnel that connects them to the base of the thumb. If you repeat a particular motion day after day, it may irritate the sheath around the two tendons, causing thickening that restricts the movement of the tendons.

Other causes of de Quervain's tenosynovitis include:

  • Direct injury to your wrist or tendon; scar tissue can restrict movement of the tendons
  • Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis

People between the ages of 30 and 50 have a higher risk of developing de Quervain's tenosynovitis than do those in other age groups. The condition is more common in women than in men, and it may be associated with pregnancy. Baby care, which involves using your thumbs as leverage to lift your child hundreds of times a day, may also be associated with the condition.

Jobs or hobbies that involve repetitive hand and wrist motions may contribute to de Quervain's tenosynovitis as well.

If de Quervain's tenosynovitis is left untreated, it may be hard to use your hand and wrist properly. If the affected tendons are no longer able to slide within their tunnel, you may develop a limited range of motion.

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