Patient Guide: De Quervain Syndrome (‘Mommy Thumb’)

By: Lindsay Davey, MScPT, MSc, CDT
June 6, 2014
Editors: Ryan Davey, PhD and Lindsay Davey, MScPT, MSc, CDT

De Quervain Syndrome / Tenosynovitis is a painful inflammation of the tendons at the thumb-side of the wrist, caused by a repetitive strain or overuse of the wrist or thumb.

De Quervain Syndrome is commonly seen in new mothers (hence the name ‘Mommy Thumb’) as a result of the repetitive and sustained splaying of the thumb away from the hand when picking up or holding a baby. In addition, there are a variety of other tasks and activities that can lead to the development of De Quervain Syndrome.

Risk factors for developing De Quervain Syndrome:

In addition to the demands on new mothers, the following activities can cause or aggravate the syndrome:

  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Playing music
  • Knitting
  • Computer use
  • Carpentry

Symptoms of De Quervain Syndrome:

  • Pain and/or swelling at the base of the thumb.
  • Difficulty moving the thumb into a splayed position, or pain with grasping or pinching motions.
  • A catching sensation with certain thumb or wrist movements, as the inflamed tendons attempt to slide along the wrist.

Treatment of De Quervain Syndrome:

  • Avoid the offending activity.
  • If you can’t avoid it completely, try switching to your healthy hand. If you are a mom, try using your good hand to hold your baby, or switching hands more frequently. But beware, it is not uncommon to develop inflammation in both hands!
  • Ice, rest, and anti-inflammatories.
  • Seek physiotherapy treatment.

Physiotherapy Treatment of De Quervain Syndrome:

  • Immobilizing the thumb and/or wrist may be necessary (via taping or a splint) to ensure rest of the tendons.
  • Acupuncture or other modalities to help decrease the inflammation and increase the rate of tendon healing.
  • Education on movements and positions to avoid / eliminate the repetitive strain
  • Excercises to strengthen the wrist and thumb to speed return to function and to avoid repeat occurrences.

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