De Quervain tenosynovitis is pain and swelling in the tendons around your thumb. Specifically, it affects the tendons of two muscles called abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis brevis.

De Quervain tenosynovitis was named after Swiss surgeon Fritz de Quervain.

It develops when your tendons are constricted (or tightened) by the surrounding tendonous sheath that covers them. It most commonly occurs due to repetitive overuse of your thumb and wrist. Most people recover with conservative treatment, but a small percentage of people may require surgery.

Here, we examine de Quervain tenosynovitis in more detail, including symptoms, treatment options, and prevention techniques.

De Quervain tenosynovitis develops due to the thickening and degeneration of the protective tendon sheath around the tendons of your thumb. This thickening can trap your tendons and lead to pain and swelling.

It’s often caused by repetitive thumb or wrist motions, specifically motions requiring radial abduction. Radial abduction is the movement of your thumb away from your index finger. Less commonly, a sudden traumatic injury may lead to de Quervain tenosynovitis.

Examples of some activities that make you prone to this injury include:

  • gardening
  • lifting young children
  • using tools like a hammer
  • administering many injections, which has given the condition the nickname “injector’s thumb”
  • sporting movements that require repetitive gripping and bending of your wrists, such as those in:
    • tennis
    • badminton
    • golf
    • racquetball

Risk factors for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis include:

Symptoms of de Quervain tenosynovitis include:

  • pain and swelling over the thumb side of your wrist
  • a fluid-filled cyst in this area
  • catching or snapping sensation when moving your thumb
  • pain that:
    • may come on suddenly or gradually
    • starts in your wrists and may travel up your forearm
    • is worse when you’re using your wrist or forearm

Some people who don’t receive treatment for de Quervain tenosynovitis may have progressive pain when using their affected hand or wrist. This pain may make some motions or sporting activities difficult.

A small percentage of people may need surgery to alleviate their symptoms. Although surgical risks are rare, they can include:

  • injury to your radial nerve
  • subluxation of your tendons, where they move out of their proper place
  • entrapment of the tendons of your abductor pollicis longus and extensor pollicis brevis muscles

De Quervain tenosynovitis often gets better with conservative treatment, but it may cause progressive pain if you don’t receive medical attention.

It’s a good idea to see a doctor if your pain is:

  • worsening
  • interfering with daily activities
  • causing you distress
  • affecting your ability to participate in sports or other activities

Doctors can diagnose de Quervain tenosynovitis by:

  • performing a physical exam
  • considering your symptoms
  • reviewing your personal and family medical history
  • ordering imaging like X-rays to check for osteoarthritis or bone issues

During a physical exam, a doctor will likely touch the side of your wrist and thumb to look for signs of pain or swelling. They may perform the Eichhoff and Finkelstein tests.

During the Eichhoff test, they’ll:

  1. ask you to put your thumb against your palm
  2. tell you to grasp your thumb with your other fingers
  3. bend your wrist downward toward your little finger

During the Finkelstein test, they’ll:

  1. have you put your forearm on a table so that your hand and wrist is off the table
  2. grab your thumb and flex it toward your palm

Pain during these tests suggests that you may have de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. But it can also be suggestive of other wrist difficulties. Both tests are prone to giving false-positive results, but the Finkelstein test seems to be more accurate.

Treatment for de Quervain tenosynovitis is usually conservative, but a small number of people may need to receive surgery.

Potential conservative treatment for de Quervain tenosynovitis include:

Injections lead to nearly complete relief in about 52% to 90% of people after one or two injections. In a small 2020 study, researchers found that immobilization following injection wasn’t associated with better outcomes than injections alone.

Surgery for de Quervain tenosynovitis involves releasing the tendon sheath to give your tendons more room to move. It can usually be performed using a local anesthetic to numb the area around your wrist.

Many people have improvements in their symptoms with nonsurgical treatment. Up to 80% of people are successfully treated with splints, NSAIDs, or injections. The remainder of people usually respond well to surgery.

In a 2020 review, researchers found only about 5% of people had remaining pain after surgery.

You can potentially prevent de Quervain tenosynovitis by taking steps to:

  • minimize repetitive motions of your wrist
  • ease into new exercise programs slowly
  • give your body time to rest from new activity or exercise
  • take breaks from repetitive tasks involving your hands
  • perform exercises with proper technique

Thumb exercises and stretches may also help some people prevent or improve de Quervain tenosynovitis symptoms.

Learn more about thumb exercises.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about de Quervain tenosynovitis.

What triggers de Quervain tenosynovitis?

De Quervain tenosynovitis is often triggered by repetitive wrist activities like playing tennis or breastfeeding a newborn.

What is the fastest way to cure de Quervain tenosynovitis?

You can help support your body’s recovery by resting from the activity that caused your symptoms and seeing a doctor or physiotherapist if your symptoms don’t improve.

Does de Quervain’s ever go away?

Many people with de Quervain’s tenosynovitis have complete resolution of their symptoms with conservative treatment alone.

What happens if de Quervain tenosynovitis goes untreated?

If left untreated, de Quervain tenosynovitis might cause progressive pain and discomfort.

De Quervain tenosynovitis causes pain and inflammation in the tendons around your thumb. It’s common in people who perform repetitive wrist and thumb movements, such as athletes in racquet sports or people breastfeeding newborns.

De Quervain tenosynovitis usually improves with conservative treatment like rest or corticosteroid injections. A small number of people may need surgery. Almost everybody who receives surgery has symptom relief.