What is surgical release for De Quervain's tenosynovitis? 

De Quervain's tenosynovitis — or radial styloid tenosynovitis — is a painful condition affecting tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. The sheaths that cover the tendons and sometimes the tendons of the thumb become inflamed. When that happens, it's painful to move your wrist. 

One of the treatments for De Quervain's tenosynovitis is surgical release of the tendons in the wrist.

When does De Quervain's tenosynovitis occur?

De Quervain's tenosynovitis occurs when you sprain or overuse your wrist. Some of the symptoms you may experience include:

  • Weak grip
  • Swelling in the wrist
  • Tenderness on side of wrist
  • Snapping or catching feeling in back of thumb
  • Pain when making a fist or moving thumb and wrist
  • Creaking or squeaking sound when tendons move in the wrist

When is surgical release done for De Quervain's tenosynovitis?

If exercises done at home increase the pain, or the pain is still there after a month, you need a doctor. A doctor makes a diagnosis by performing a simple exercise. You'll put your thumb in the palm of your hand and make a fist. Then you'll try to bend your wrist towards your little finger. If you're in pain, you have De Quervain's tenosynovitis. You'll most likely be referred then to a hand specialist for treatment.

If exercises, rest, pain medication and a splint do not work, your doctor may recommend steroid injections to reduce swelling. When traditional treatments don't work, tendon release surgery is an option. 

What to expect during surgical release

Surgical release of the tendon will reduce the pressure in your wrist. The doctor makes an incision in your wrist near the base of your thumb. Then the surgeon opens the tissue or sheaths over the swollen tendons to relieve the tendon and the compressed nerves. Loosening them up reduces the pain. 

During rehabilitation, you'll possibly feel numb or tingling near the surgical site. You'll go through physical or occupational therapy. At the same time, you'll wear a splint on your hand for a month after surgery.

Common activities that may lead to De Quervain's

Scar tissue and arthritis can cause De Quervain's. Every day activities typically lead to overusing your wrists. Those activities include:

  • Golf
  • Piano
  • Typing
  • Childcare
  • Woodworking
  • Hobby with repetitive hand and wrist motion

As a note of caution, don't wait to have this pain diagnosed and treated. If you wait, you run the risk of limiting your movement permanently and causing the sheath of tissue over the tendon to burst.

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