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Surgery for De Quervains Disease (“blackberry Thumb”)

This page is a brief guide about surgery for De Quervain’s disease. If you have any questions or would like further information, speak to your GP or health professional.

De Quervain’s disease in brief

De Quervain’s disease is often referred to as ‘washerwoman’ strain or blackberry/gamer thumb.

When moving your thumb and wrist is painful and accompanied by a swelling at your thumb base, it is likely to be De Quervain’s disease. Sometimes the pain is accompanied by stiffness and even the locking of your thumb.

The pain and swelling are caused when the two tendons connected to your thumb have difficulty moving in the sheath or tunnel they run through. This is usually because the fibrous roof of the sheath has thickened.


Figure 1
De Quervain’s disease

Copyright © 2014 EIDO Healthcare Limited

What are the benefits of surgery for De Quervain’s disease?

Surgery should relieve the pain at your thumb base.

Is there an alternative?

Mild symptoms can often be cured by restricting the movement of your thumb i.e. resting it or wearing a splint overnight. Physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medicines may also help.

A large percentage of patients can be helped by a steroid injection into the base of the thumb.

What does the surgery involve?

This half hour surgery is usually done under a local anaesthetic.

The thickened fibrous roof of the tunnel or sheath causing the De Quervain’s disease is accessed via a small cut at the base of the thumb. Once the thickened area is cleared the tendons can move freely through the tunnel.

What about complications?

General complications of any operations can include:

  • Pain
  • Scarring
  • Wound infection
  • Bleeding

Specific complications of this operation can include:

  • Lack of feeling in the back of your thumb
  • Tenderness around the wound
  • Tendons of the thumb moving out of place
  • Complex regional pain syndrome causing acute pain, loss of flexibility and mobility of the hand

What about recovery time?

  • Discharged on the same day as the surgery
  • Keep hand raised and bandaged for two days
  • Gentle movement of the fingers, elbow and shoulders will keep everything moving smoothly
  • A regular pattern of exercise should ensure a good recovery to normal activities
  • Please make sure your doctor or medical team is happy with your exercise regime
  • Prompt improvement in symptoms after surgery

De Quervain’s disease summarised

Painful movement of your thumb and wrist and swelling of the thumb base typically signified by De Quervain’s disease can often be relieved by surgery. Surgery is usually considered if steroid injections have failed.

References: 

EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare. 

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

Surgery for De Quervains Disease (“blackberry Thumb”) Consultants