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What is De Quervain Tenosynovitis?

De Quervain tenosynovitis is caused by an irritation of tissue at the base of the thumb. Strong fibers called tendons lead into the thumb. The tendons can become compressed and irritated due to thickening of overlying tissues. This can cause pain and swelling.

Cutaway view of forearm showing the tendon sheath, swollen synovium and inflamed tendon

Image of a woman unscrewing a jar lid and holding her wrist.
You may feel pain when you pinch or grasp things, turn or twist your wrist, or make a fist.

Inside your thumb

Tendons connect muscles in your wrist and forearm to the bones in your thumb. The tendons are covered by a protective sheath. This sheath is lined with tissue called synovium. It produces a fluid that lets the tendons slide easily when you move your thumb. The tendons and sheaths are covered by tissue called a retinaculum that creates a tunnel. If the retinaculum becomes thickened, the tendons can become  irritated or injured .

What causes it?

Making the same wrist motion over and over may irritate the tendons (for example, opening jar lids or grasping a tool). Picking up a child under the arms can cause tendon irritation. So can an injury to the thumb side of the wrist.

The road to healing

To help the tendons heal, rest, adjust your activity level, and use splints, ice or anti-inflammatory medicines. Sometimes, a cortisone-like injection of the tendon compartment, or even surgery may be needed to treat the condition. After the tendons heal, you may need to regain strength and movement in your thumb. Your doctor may give you exercises. Or you may be referred to a therapist who can help you. Follow your doctor’s directions. They will help you get back to your normal activities.

Online Medical Reviewer: Banerjee, Rahul, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/9/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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