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Wrist Tenosynovitis

Wrist tenosynovitis refers to a broad group of conditions affecting the tendons of the wrist. Tendons are strong, fibrous tissues that connect muscle to bone. Tendons normally glide through a sheath. When the tendons become inflamed and swollen, they can’t easily move through the sheath, causing irritation and pain.

Wrist Tenosynovitis Hero Image 2

Wrist tenosynovitis refers to a broad group of conditions affecting the tendons of the wrist. Tendons are strong, fibrous tissues that connect muscle to bone. Tendons normally glide through a sheath. When the tendons become inflamed and swollen, they can’t easily move through the sheath, causing irritation and pain.

There are many tendons that connect the forearm to the bones of the wrist. Intersection syndrome, sometimes called oarsman’s wrist, is a type of wrist tenosynovitis that happens when the wrist tendons become inflamed due to rubbing against each other. The inflammation can happen on either side of the wrist. The condition is common among rowers and other athletes due to the repetitive stress they place on their wrists. Wrist tenosynovitis can cause debilitating pain and limit athletic performance.

What causes Wrist Tenosynovitis?

While wrist tenosynovitis can be caused by an acute trauma to the wrist, such as a fall, it’s normally caused by repetitive and forceful stress on the wrist. Athletes who play sports that require repeated flexion and extension of the wrist are at greater risk for this condition.

Wrist tenosynovitis is most common in these sports:

• Rowing
• Racket sports (e.g. tennis, squash, racket ball)
• Golf
• Weight training
• Gymnastics

Symptoms

Common symptoms of oarsman’s wrist include pain and swelling around the tendons of the wrist. Other common symptoms include:

• Pain that radiates up and down the forearm
• Tenderness, usually one to three inches above the wrist
• Mild swelling of the tendons
• Crackling or grinding feeling when extending or flexing the wrist

When to see a doctor

People with symptoms of wrist tenosynovitis often can recover at home with treatments such as rest, ice, and taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen. However, if your symptoms do not go away or get worse with time, make an appointment to see your doctor. You should mention any sports you play which could have contributed to your injury. During your physical examination, your doctor will look for tenderness over the tendons of the wrist. Imaging tests like x-rays or MRIs are not typically required to make the diagnosis of wrist tenosynovitis, though your doctor may order them to rule out other conditions.

Non-operative treatment

Wrist tenosynovitis is commonly treated without surgery. Conservative treatments include:

• Changing patterns of hand use to rest the wrist (wearing a splint may help facilitate this)
• Oral or topical anti-inflammatory medication
• Hand therapy with a licensed professional
• Corticosteroid injections (administered by an orthopedic or hand specialist) to help alleviate symptoms

You can also try these exercises at home:

Wrist Tenosynovitis

Surgical Treatment

Most cases of wrist tenosynovitis are treated without surgery. However, your doctor may recommend surgery if your symptoms do not get better with conservative treatment. Surgery may be needed to open up the sheath of the inflamed tendons, or debride (remove) damaged tissue. Your doctor can advise on whether surgery may be right for you.

Recovery

After conservative treatment, patients usually see improvement after one to two weeks. Recovery after surgery can take longer. Athletes can return to play once they are pain free and have a full range of movement. Your doctor may recommend wearing a brace for added protection as you return to sports.

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