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  • Emily McGuire

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis: Treatments & Hand Therapy

Our hands play a crucial role in almost everything we do. From typing on a keyboard to picking up groceries, our hands are constantly in motion. However, when pain and discomfort strike in the wrist and thumb, it can significantly impact our ability to perform even the simplest tasks. This is where understanding conditions like De Quervain’s tenosynovitis becomes essential.

person experiencing pain from De Quervain's Tenosynovitis

What is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis?

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is a syndrome that affects the tendons on the side of your wrist that run into your thumb. These tendons are responsible for controlling the movement of the thumb, allowing it to move smoothly as you grasp and pinch objects. This condition affects two tendons in the wrist, the extensor pollicis brevis and the abductor pollicis longus. These tendons pass through a sheath as they go through the wrist; when this area becomes inflamed the tendons cannot freely pass through without pain.

Diagram of De Quervain Syndrome

What causes De Quervain’s Syndrome?

The following factors contribute to this syndrome:

  1. Repetitive Movements & Overuse: Activities that involve repetitive hand and wrist motions, such as typing, gardening, or playing tennis, can aggravate the tendons in the wrist.

  2. Direct Trauma: Injury to the wrist or thumb, such as a fall or blow to the hand can contribute to symptoms.

  3. Risk Factors: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or pregnancy may increase the risk of developing this condition as they cause swelling in the body. This condition can also come into effect after pregnancy due to fluid retention and from holding the baby in certain ways – in these cases, the condition is sometimes colloquially referred to as “Mother’s Thumb.”


De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Treatment Options

There are several treatment options available for this condition:

  • Rest: giving the affected hand and wrist adequate rest can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further irritation.

  • Ice: applying ice to the area can reduce pain and swelling.

  • Splinting: wearing a splint or brace can immobilize the area to relieve pressure on the tendons.

  • Medications: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended to reduce pain in the short term.

  • Hand Therapy: working with a physical or occupational therapist can help overcome this condition by improving strength, flexibility, and range of motion.


Hand Therapy for De Quervain’s Syndrome

Physical therapy and occupational therapy are both great treatment options to address not only the symptoms but the causes of your pain. The goal of a PT or OT treatment plan is to reduce pain and inflammation and get you back to a pain-free life! Treatment might include:

  • Exercises and stretches to enhance strength and mobility.

  • Assessment of postural abnormalities that may be contributing to symptoms.

  • Soft tissue mobilization techniques using manual therapy and scraping tools (known as gua sha or IASTM) to improve tissue pliability and blood circulation.

  • Kinesiotape or splints may be used to offload stress on the tendons.

  • Prevention strategies to avoid re-injury.


Rehab United Can Help

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis can be a painful condition, but with proper understanding, treatment, and prevention strategies, individuals can effectively manage their symptoms and regain functionality in their hands and wrists. If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, don't hesitate to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Rehab United’s physical therapists and occupational therapy hand specialists are dedicated to providing solutions tailored to you.


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Emily McGuire is a Marketing Associate and staff writer for Rehab United. With a Bachelor's degree in International Business from UC San Diego, she is a California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.

Medically Reviewed By: Dana Abbott, OTR/L, an occupational therapist specializing in the hand and upper extremities. Dana attended San Jose State University earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy and continued on to complete additional internship in Hand Therapy. She worked directly under the President of American Society of Hand Surgery for seven years, taking many Hand Therapy courses nationally alongside him, as well as successfully completing a two-year Hand Therapy course by Kaiser Permanente.

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