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Thumb Swelling/Pain? Learn About de Quervain’s Syndrome

Author: Niki L. Carayannopoulos, DO

What is de Quervain’s Syndrome?

de Quervain’s Syndrome (also known as “de Quervain’s tenosynovitis”) is a somewhat common condition that produces thumb pain and swelling at the base of the thumb. This syndrome is characterized by inflammation of the sheaths surrounding the tendons in the base of your thumb.

What are the symptoms of de Quervain’s Syndrome?

Symptoms of de Quervain’s Syndrome may include:

  • Swelling at the base of the thumb
  • A fluid-filled cyst in the same area
  • Sensation that your thumb is catching when you move it
  • A squeaking noise when you move your swollen thumb
  • Numbness on the back of the thumb and pointer finger

For many patients, pain worsens with use of the thumb. Some patients may also experience pain that radiates up the forearm.

Am I at risk?

de Quervain’s Syndrome is most commonly seen in women over the age of 40. In many cases, patients diagnosed with de Quervain’s Syndrome use their hand and wrist in repetitive motions at work, in a hobby (such as gardening), or at home (such as holding a baby throughout the day). Having arthritis or being pregnant can also increase your risk for de Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

How is de Quervain’s Syndrome diagnosed?

de Quervain’s Syndrome can typically be diagnosed in-office through a simple examination and test known as the Finkelstein test. During this test, your doctor will ask you to extend your arm straight in front of you, holding your hand open, palm up. Fold your thumb across the palm, and then close the other four fingers over the thumb. Raise your fist, keeping the arm straight. If you experience pain or tenderness at the base of the thumb, you may have de Quervain’s Syndrome.

What can I do to manage thumb pain and swelling?

If you have thumb pain or swelling, your orthopedic doctor will work with you to develop strategies for reducing pain and inflammation. These may include:

  • Identifying and avoiding behaviors that cause repetitive use of the thumb
  • Applying ice or heat to the area
  • Wearing a splint or brace to immobilize the thumb and provide rest
  • Taking non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • Corticosteroid injections by your Houston sports medicine doctor

Surgery to cut the tendon sheaths and relieve pressure is rarely needed, but may be an option for severe cases of de Quervain’s Syndrome.

Find an Orthopedic Doctor Near You In Houston

For more information about de Quervain’s Syndrome, thumb pain and swelling, schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.