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How to Stop De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis From Being a Pain in the Wrist

Chronic pain has a way of reminding us of the body parts we often take for granted—particularly our hands and wrists. When simple daily tasks cause ongoing pain on the thumb side of your wrist, you may have De Quervain's Tenosynovitis.

Although the name sounds complicated, De Quervain's Tenosynovitis is a common and highly treatable ailment.  

"If you get diagnosed with this condition, please don't worry,” says Douglas Hutchinson, MD, professor of orthopedics and chief of hand surgery at University of Utah Health. “It’s easy to treat, and patients can go back to enjoying their daily activities without the likelihood of complications."

What Is De Quervain's Tenosynovitis?

People with this condition feel pain at the base of the thumb that radiates into the radial side (thumb side) of the wrist. Certain movements, such as grabbing, pinching, and twisting, will intensify the pain and may cause swelling and tenderness in the area.

Imaging tests aren’t necessary for diagnosing this condition, but your doctor will most likely perform a Finkelstein test. You can even try it at home. Here’s how it’s done:

Hold your hand out like you're about to do a handshake

  1. Bend your thumb across your palm
  2. Bend your fingers over your thumb
  3. Bend your wrist over your pinky finger

If you're feeling sharp pain along the thumb side of the wrist while conducting this test, you may have De Quervain's Tenosynovitis.

Who’s Most at Risk?

This condition (also known as “mommy’s thumb”) can happen to anyone, but it is especially common among new mothers due to repetitive caregiving activities. Motherhood aside, women are more vulnerable to this condition due to inflammation caused by fluctuating hormones during the menstruation cycle.

Of course, anyone at any age can be at risk for this condition, especially if they’re dabbling in a new sport or hobby that involves repetitive motions of the hands and wrists. Some of these activities include weightlifting (particularly with kettlebells), gardening, martial arts, crocheting, rowing, and canoeing.

Age is also a factor, so if you’re over age 45 and trying out a new sport, remember that moderation is key.

"The 'no pain, no gain' mindset doesn't apply to wrist injuries,” Hutchinson says. “If you're experiencing symptoms of De Quervain's Tenosynovitis, it's time to limit or stop the activities that are causing this pain. It’s also a good idea to practice good form and technique to prevent injuries from happening.”

What Are My Treatment Options?

The good news is that your painful symptoms can be alleviated with time and rest. Your doctor may recommend a few treatment options, including:

  • Wearing a splint that stabilizes the thumb and wrist  
  • Stopping or limiting repetitive wrist and hand movements
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
  • Resting and icing the affected area

For new mothers, some of these options may be easier said than done—especially when it comes to wearing a splint. Hutchinson recommends putting one on after tucking the little one in at night. 

"We can't just tell people to stop caring for their babies, so the best option for moms with newborns is to use a splint at night,” Hutchinson says. “When we're sleeping, our hands and thumbs tend to form into a fist, so a splint can help us stop aggravating the tendons overnight."

Don’t Suffer Through the Pain

If you’ve tried everything and still feel persistent pain, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss further treatment options, which may include cortisone (steroid) injections or surgery. 

“An injection is the ‘silver bullet’ the patient is often looking for to cure the problem quickly,” Hutchinson says. “And if treatment isn’t working, surgery can solve the problem. Very few patients require this, but it’s a permanent fix, and the recovery time is minimal.”