Skip navigation

De Quervain tendinitis

A tendon is thick, bendable tissue that connects muscle to bone. Two tendons run from the back of your thumb down the side of your wrist. De Quervain tendinitis is caused when these tendons are swollen and irritated.

More about your injury

De Quervain tendinitis can be caused by playing sports such as tennis, golf, or rowing. Constantly lifting children can also strain the tendons in the wrist and lead to this condition.

If you have De Quervain tendinitis, you may notice:

  • Pain on the back of your thumb when you make a fist, grab something, or turn your wrist
  • Numbness in the thumb and index finger
  • Swelling of the wrist
  • Stiffness when moving your thumb or wrist

What to expect

De Quervain tendinitis is usually treated with rest, splints, medicine, changes in activity, and exercise. Your doctor may also give you a shot of cortisone to help decrease pain and swelling.

If your tendinitis is chronic, you may need surgery to give the tendon more room to slide without rubbing on the tunnel wall.

Symptom relief

Ice your wrist for 20 minutes of every hour while awake. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.

For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medications at the store.

  • Talk with your health care provider before using these medications if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
  • Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.

Activity

Rest your wrist. Keep your wrist from moving for at least 1 week. You can do this with a wrist splint.

Wear a wrist splint during any sports or activities that could put stress on your wrist.

Once you can move your wrist without pain, you can start light stretching to increase strength and movement.

Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist to work with you, so that you can return to normal activity as soon as possible.

To increase strength and flexibility, do light stretching exercises. One exercise you can practice is squeezing a tennis ball.

  • Lightly grasp a tennis ball.
  • Gently squeeze the ball and add more pressure if there is no pain or discomfort.
  • Hold for 5 seconds, then release your grip.
  • Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  • Do this a few times a day.

Before and after any activity:

  • Use a heating pad on your wrist to warm the area.
  • Massage the area around your wrist and thumb to loosen the muscles.
  • Ice your wrist and take pain medication after activity if there is any discomfort.

The best way for the tendons to heal is to stick to a care plan. The more you rest and do the exercises, the quicker your wrist will heal.

When to call the doctor

Follow up with your health care provider if:

  • The pain is not improving or becomes worse
  • Your wrist becomes more stiff
  • You have increasing numbness or tingling in the wrist and fingers, or if they turn white or blue

References

O'Neill CJ. de Quervain tenosynovitis. In: Frontera: Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 4.

Update Date: 5/15/2014

Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M Quality Logo

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2014, A.D.A.M., Inc. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized in writing by ADAM Health Solutions.

A.D.A.M Logo