De Quervain’s Disease (“blackberry Thumb”)

What is De Quervain’s disease?

Sufferers of De Quervain’s disease experience pain when moving their wrist and thumb, and there is often swelling at the base of their thumb too. It is often referred to as ‘washerwoman’ strain or blackberry/gamer thumb.

A narrow tunnel called a sheath houses the two tendons that operate the thumb.

When the tunnel’s fibrous roof thickens due to De Quervain’s disease, it prevents the tendons from gliding freely through it and results in pain in the thumb and wrist when they are moved.

Stiffness in the thumb and wrist can also be present and the thumb can sometimes lock when moved.

Why have this surgery?

The purpose of this surgery is to relieve the pain at the base of the thumb that is associated with the disease.

What are the alternatives to surgery?

Alternatives for mild symptoms include physiotherapy, resting the wrist and thumb, wearing a splint at night and anti-inflammatory medication to relieve the pain. Steroid injections administered to the base of the thumb provide a successful treatment with around an 80% success rate.

What does the operation involve?

Surgery for De Quervain’s disease involves releasing the thumb tendons. The operation usually takes about half an hour and is generally performed under local anaesthetic. A small cut will be made at the base of the thumb by the surgeon. Then, the tunnel’s fibrous roof is cut to allow the tendons to glide freely through the tunnel once again.

How quick is recovery?

Usually, you are able to go home on the day of the operation. For the first two days, it is recommended that you keep your hand raised and bandaged. Gently exercising your fingers, elbow and shoulders are strongly recommended to prevent stiffness.

Following the operation, your symptoms should improve quickly.

Summary of De Quervain’s disease

If you suffer from De Quervain’s disease (feel pain and tenderness when you move your wrist and thumb) and steroid injections have failed, surgery should alleviate your pain.


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