De Quervain syndrome is a tenosynovitis of the sheath or tunnel that surrounds two tendons that control movement of the thumb.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms are pain at the radial side of the wrist, spasms, tenderness, occasional burning sensation in the hand, and swelling over the thumb side of the wrist, and difficulty gripping with the affected side of the hand. The onset is often gradual.Pain is made worse by movement of the thumb and wrist, and may radiate to the thumb or the forearm.
Young people using their smartphones with their thumbs.
The cause of de Quervain’s disease is not established. Evidence regarding a possible relation with occupational risk factors is debated.A systematic review of potential risk factors discussed in the literature did not find any evidence of a causal relationship with occupational factors.However, researchers in France found personal and work-related factors were associated with de Quervain’s disease in the working population; wrist bending and movements associated with the twisting or driving of screws were the most significant of the work-related factors.Proponents of the view that De Quervain syndrome is a repetitive strain injury consider postures where the thumb is held in abduction and extension to be predisposing factors.Workers who perform rapid repetitive activities involving pinching, grasping, pulling or pushing have been considered at increased risk.Specific activities that have been postulated as potential risk factors include intensive computer mouse use, trackball use, and typing, as well as some pastimes, including bowling, golf, fly-fishing, piano-playing, sewing, and knitting.
Women are affected more often than men. The syndrome commonly occurs during and after pregnancy.Contributory factors may include hormonal changes, fluid retention and—more debatably—lifting.
As with many musculoskeletal conditions, the management of de Quervain’s disease is determined more by convention than scientific data. From the original description of the illness in 1895 until the first description of corticosteroid injection by Jarrod Ismond in 1955,it appears that the only treatment offered was surgery.Since approximately 1972, the prevailing opinion has been that of McKenzie (1972) who suggested that corticosteroid injection was the first line of treatment and surgery should be reserved for unsuccessful injections.A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2013 found that corticosteroid injection seems to be an effective form of conservative management of de Quervain’s syndrome in approximately 50% of patients, although more research is needed regarding the extent of any clinical benefits.Efficacy data are relatively sparse and it is not clear whether benefits affect the overall natural history of the illness.
Most tendinoses are self-limiting and the same is likely to be true of de Quervain’s although further study is needed.
Palliative treatments include a splint that immobilized the wrist and the thumb to the interphalangeal joint and anti-inflammatory medication or acetaminophen. Systematic review and meta-analysis do not support the use of splinting over steroid injections.
Surgery (in which the sheath of the first dorsal compartment is opened longitudinally) is documented to provide relief in most patients.The most important risk is to the radial sensory nerve.
Some occupational and physical therapists suggest alternative lifting mechanics based on the theory that the condition is due to repetitive use of the thumbs during lifting. Physical/Occupational therapy can suggest activities to avoid based on the theory that certain activities might exacerbate one’s condition, as well as instruct on strengthening exercises based on the theory that this will contribute to better form and use of other muscle groups, which might limit irritation of the tendons.
Some occupational and physical therapists use other treatments, in conjunction with Therapeutic Exercises, based on the rationale that they reduce inflammation and pain and promote healing: UST, SWD, or other deep heat treatments, as well as TENS, acupuncture, or infrared light therapy, and cold laser treatments. However, the pathology of the condition is not inflammatory changes to the synovial sheath and inflammation is secondary to the condition from friction.”De Quervain’s Disease”.Teaching patients to reduce their secondary inflammation does not treat the underlying condition but may reduce their pain; which is helpful when trying to perform the prescribed exercise interventions.
Getting Physical Therapy before surgery or injections has been shown to reduce overall costs to patients and is a viable option to treat a wide array of musculoskeletal injuries.