PDC Test - De Quervain's - A Cousin to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

You can earn 0.25 PDC by passing the exam following this article with a score of 85% or better, which has been approved for publication by NCRA's Council of the Academy of Professional Reporters.

The questions are based on the material in the article but some may require additional research. Please take these tests online by following the directions on the main JCR Article test page


De Quervain’s — A cousin to carpal tunnel syndrome

By Kit Braun

Pronounced DEE-kwer-vanes or de-KWARE-vanes, this condition relates to pain on the thumb side of the wrist. It was named after Swiss surgeon Fritz de Quervain, who wrote about it as early as 1895. De Quervain’s happens as a result of repetitive use of excessive gripping in a sideways motion or in pinching forces of the thumb and wrist. Before it was named after Fritz de Quervain, it was called the washer woman’s sprain. Nowadays this condition is usually found in computer operators, musicians, and people involved with racket sports. Another example that can cause this condition is from the awkward hand positions that are required by a new mother in caring for an infant.

Many repetitive activities in the office setting can also contribute to de Quervain’s. While typing, moving the wrist continually toward the small finger or always contracting the thumb muscles over the keyboard space bar are two examples. Forceful motions while filing and continuous tight holding of a writing instrument are types of pinching forces that may contribute to de Quervain’s. People who spend eight hours a day five days a week doing a particular task rarely develop these problems. Rather, it is the occasional typist who works on a project for three days straight who often experiences the onset of pain.

So how is de Quervain’s different but yet related to carpal tunnel syndrome? They both affect the thumb, but in separate ways.

The carpal tunnel is a bony passageway in the wrist connecting the forearm to the hand. There are nine flexor tendons and a median nerve running though this tunnel. Flexor tendons help the fingers and thumb to flex or bend down. They are surrounded by a lining called a synovial sheath. This lining allows the tendons to glide smoothly back and forth through them for flexing and bending.

The median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel provides sensory feeling and muscular movement to the thumb and middle three fingers. The little finger is the only one not affected by this nerve. Eight wrist or carpal bones make up the sides and bottom of this tunnel structure, and a ligament stretches over the top to form a roof. The median nerve lies directly beneath this ligament and comes in contact with it when bending or straightening the wrist or fingers.

Carpal tunnel syndrome results when the median nerve becomes compressed in the tunnel as a result of inflammation from repeated or prolonged flexing of the fingers or wrist from activities like keyboarding or lawn mowing. The flexor tendons also become inflamed and swell, making it a tight fit to pass through this bony tunnel to perform their task. At times pain can radiate up the arm to the elbow and may even extend to the shoulder and neck.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by a variety of problems that may lead to compression of the median nerve. Conditions such as rheumatoid/degenerative arthritis, wrist fractures/dislocations, diabetes, and even pregnancy can contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome due to inflammation exacerbated by these conditions. Carpal tunnel syndrome may also be referred to as cumulative trauma disorder or repetitive strain injury.

Out of these nine flexor tendons extending through the carpal tunnel, two of them go directly to the thumb. These two tendons are called abductor and extensor. Their function is to spread and extend the thumb away from the rest of the hand. They are located at the base of the thumb on the wrist side. De Quervain’s occurs from repetitive sideways motions like cutting with scissors or gripping the computer mouse. This sideways motion causes irritation and swelling at the base of the thumb. When the surface of the tendon becomes irritated and rough, it causes the sheath to become inflamed and constricts the tendon’s movement. There could also be a thickening of the sheath and/or the tendon. A nodule could develop in the sheath, adding to the difficulty of gliding back and forth through the synovial lining.

Pain over the thumb side of the wrist is the primary symptom. It may occur “overnight” or gradually, and it may radiate into the thumb and up the forearm. It is worse with the use of the hand and thumb, especially with any forceful grasping, pinching, or twisting. Because of the pain and swelling, there may be some decreased thumb motion.

De Quervain’s may also be referred to as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. Tenosynovitis is irritation of both the tendon and the synovial sheath. Tendinitis pertains only to irritation of the tendon and is often accompanied or preceded by tenosynovitis. Tendinitis occurs when a tendon rubs against other structures as it passes through its synovial sheath. Risk for tendinitis increases with age due to tendon stiffening.

Another term used to describe de Quervain’s or tenosynovitis is trigger finger. Trigger finger happens when the finger or thumb is flexed, and because of inflammation in the tendon and sheath, there is resistance to re-extension. This causes a trigger effect where one experiences a snapping or catching sensation when attempting to re-position the finger or thumb that can sometimes be loud enough to be heard.

A Finkelstein test is used to diagnose de Quervain’s. In this test, the patient makes a fist with fingers over the thumb. The wrist is then bent in the direction of the little finger. This test can be quite painful for the person suffering from de Quervain’s.

De Quervain’s and carpal tunnel syndrome both pertain to inflammation of the tendons involving the thumb, but carpal tunnel syndrome involves more. It involves nerve damage. The median nerve is the most vulnerable component. When this nerve becomes trapped in the carpal tunnel, it results in a lack of blood flow. This causes the pins-and-needles pain or the feeling of tingling and numbness in the fingers and thumb that is often complained of by people suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. This pain and numbness can happen at any time. Often these symptoms occur at night and may awaken you from sleep. This nerve compression causes a decrease in sensation that may result in clumsiness and weakness of the affected hand. Patients may find themselves dropping objects and less capable of performing tasks requiring gripping strength.

Conservative treatment for de Quervain’s is to decrease swelling, which, in turn, will decrease the patient’s discomfort. The patient rests the thumb in a splint for three weeks, aided by oral anti-inflammatories. You can also receive a cortisone injection. When these conservative treatments fail, surgery is recommended. Surgery for de Quervain’s is an outpatient procedure that involves cutting the sheath around the inflamed tendon. A longitudinal incision is made on the side of the wrist at the base of the thumb. This is to expose the tendon in order to cut the synovial sheath, making it wider for the tendon to glide through.

Conservative treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome is to decrease swelling of the tendons and nerve to give them appropriate room in the tunnel. This is accomplished by refraining from repetitive activities for approximately four to six weeks, oral anti-inflammatories, and/or a cortisone injection. Usually a splint is worn until symptoms subside. These holding devices are meant to keep the wrist from drooping into flexion so that the wrist stays in the straight, neutral position in order to reduce further impingement of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. Wrist braces and splints are also recommended at night because most people make a fist or curl their wrist in flexion while they sleep. Sleeping with the hands in a fist makes the muscles become even tighter and shorter, resulting in further impingement and damage to the carpal tunnel.

If conservative treatment does not achieve the desired results, or in cases involving more severe symptoms such as muscle wasting and extensive weakness and numbness, surgery may be recommended. The surgery is an outpatient procedure where the physician makes an incision on the palm of the hand just above the wrist to expose the roof of the carpal tunnel. The ligament roof of the tunnel is opened up giving the tendons and the median nerve more room to pass through. The natural healing process and regeneration of nerve fibers in the median nerve will occur through the following six months to a year. The length of recovery in regaining strength and sensation will depend upon the extent of the nerve damage prior to seeking treatment.

Taking preventative measures will help to combat the onset of de Quervain’s and carpal tunnel syndrome. Certainly not all people involved in repetitive wrist activities will develop carpal tunnel syndrome or de Quervain’s. Proper work pacing, regular rest breaks, reducing repetition, and ergonomically designed tools and equipment are some easy steps you can take to protect against these injuries. To further alleviate de Quervain’s symptoms, you can use rubber fingertips while filing and add rubber grips on pens for writing. This will reduce the pinching forces of the thumb. Try to relax the thumbs while typing, and concentrate on moving the hand and wrist together as one to keep the wrist in a neutral position. When using the keyboard space bar, try to alternate the thumbs.

Kit Braun, RDR, from Enid, Okla., was diagnosed with de Quervain’s in 1997. Since her surgery, she’s fully recovered, but she admits she does things differently — using software, wrist wraps, and a tilting tripod to ease her reporting.

De Quervain’s Exam

By passing the following exam, you will receive 0.25 PDC. The questions are based on the material in the article but some may require additional research. You can take this test online.

  1. De Quervain’s refers to pain located:
    1. in the fingers
    2. in the carpals
    3. on the thumb side of the wrist
    4. in the median nerve
  2. Nerve damage can occur in:
    1. tenosynovitis
    2. carpal tunnel syndrome
    3. washer woman’s syndrome
    4. de Quervain’s
  3. The term carpal means:
    1. tendon
    2. muscle
    3. sheath
    4. bone
  4. De Quervain’s is caused by:
    1. repetitive sideways movement
    2. excessive gripping
    3. excessive pinching forces
    4. all of the above
  5. The “roof” of the carpal tunnel is:
    1. made up of bone
    2. a sheath
    3. a nerve
    4. a ligament
  6. The median nerve is located in the:
    1. carpal tunnel
    2. base of the thumb
    3. synovial sheath
    4. little finger
  7. A catching or popping sensation of the tendon is referred to as:
    1. carpal tunnel syndrome
    2. trigger finger
    3. pins and needles
    4. sensory movement
  8. The synovial sheath is:
    1. the lining around the carpal tunnel
    2. the lining around the tendons
    3. the lining around the median nerve
    4. a ligament
  9. The walls of the carpal tunnel are made up of:
    1. nerves
    2. muscles
    3. tendons
    4. bones
  10. Tingling or numbness in the hand is caused by a pinched:
    1. tendon
    2. bone
    3. ligament
    4. nerve
  11. What is the correct spelling for tendonitis?
    1. tendonitis
    2. tendinitis
    3. tendenitis
    4. A and B are both acceptable spellings
  12. Swelling of the tendon and its sheath is:
    1. carpal tunnel syndrome
    2. tenosynovitis
    3. tendinitis
    4. flexion
  13. A Finkelstein test is used to diagnose:
    1. de Quervain’s
    2. carpal tunnel syndrome
    3. tendinitis
    4. none of the above
  14. Preventative measures used to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries are:
    1. proper work pacing
    2. regular rest breaks
    3. ergonomically designed equipment
    4. all of the above
  15. A lack of blood flow to the median nerve results in:
    1. the feeling of numbness or tingling in the fingers
    2. a catching or popping sensation
    3. de Quervain’s
    4. tenosynovitis
  16. Surgical intervention for carpal tunnel syndrome means:
    1. cutting the sheath around a tendon
    2. cortisone injection
    3. cutting a ligament
    4. cutting a sheath around a nerve
  17. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by:
    1. prolonged flexing of the fingers or wrist
    2. prolonged sideways motions
    3. excessive gripping
    4. B and C
  18. Flexor tendons help the fingers to:
    1. spread out
    2. have feeling
    3. build muscle
    4. bend down
  19. Flexor tendons in the thumb assist the thumb in:
    1. building muscle
    2. extension
    3. having feeling
    4. all of the above
  20. How many flexor tendons travel through the carpal tendon?
    1. 6
    2. 7
    3. 8
    4. 9
  21. It takes at least _____ for a nerve to heal from nerve damage.
    1. six weeks
    2. one to two months
    3. one to two years
    4. six months to a year
  22. The goal of conservative treatment for both de Quervain’s and carpal tunnel syndrome is:
    1. to reduce tendon inflammation
    2. to reduce ligament inflammation
    3. to reduce muscle soreness
    4. to cut the sheath around the inflamed tendon
  23. Bending movement that decreases the angle between the limb and its joint is called:
    1. flexion
    2. extension
    3. pinching
    4. stretching
  24. An unbending or straightening movement that increases the angle between the limb and its joint is called:
    1. flexion
    2. extension
    3. pinching
    4. stretching
  25. The term abduct means:
    1. to move away from or parallel to
    2. to bend back and forth
    3. to stretch out
    4. none of the above