What Is Tenosynovitis?

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If you develop pain in your body that limits normal motion, you may have tenosynovitis, a condition in which a tendon and its covering (the synovial sheath) become inflamed and irritated. Tendons are your body's structures that connect muscles to bones. The inflammation of the tendon and sheath in tenosynovitis may cause pain, swelling, and limited use of the body part affected.

Where Do People Get Tenosynovitis?

Body parts most often affected by tenosynovitis include:

These tendons attach muscles to bones and reside within the synovial fluid, the thick liquid that is between the joints. This synovial sheath allows the tendon to glide and slide normally during use. Irritation of the tendon may cause the common symptoms of tenosynovitis.

This article discusses tenosynovitis, including how it is diagnosed and managed, as well as its prognosis.

Nerve pain in the wrists

 athima tongloom/Moment / Getty Images 

Types of Tenosynovitis

There are two main types of tenosynovitis: acute infectious tenosynovitis and noninfectious inflammatory tenosynovitis.

In acute infectious tenosynovitis, the tendon sheath and tendon become inflamed due to an infection. For example, trauma to a finger or fingers introduces bacteria into the tendon sheath, causing pain and limiting motion. This is a rare condition, affecting about 2.5% of people. It is considered an emergency that requires antibiotics and surgery to debride (remove unhealthy tissue from) the area and ensure that sepsis (and infection that moves into the bloodstream) does not occur.

More commonly, tenosynovitis is the noninfectious type. It typically results from overuse and repetitive strain of the affected tendon and presents with signs and symptoms of tendon inflammation. There is some debate about the presence of inflammatory cells in tenosynovitis, though; some research indicates that inflammatory cells are not always present in tenosynovitis. This indicates that tenosynovitis may be caused by a problem with the tendon sheath rather than inflammation.

Tenosynovitis Symptoms

There are several symptoms of tenosynovitis. They include:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty moving the affected body part

If you suspect you have tenosynovitis, check in with your healthcare provider. They can diagnose your condition so you can get started on the correct treatment.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of tenosynovitis begins with a clinical examination. Your physician will examine the affected body part. Palpation (feeling for swelling and checking for pain) is done on the area. Sometimes, you may feel an internal rubbing sensation as you move the affected tendon. Your physician may also take range of motion measurements.

Healthcare providers may order special diagnostic tests if they suspect you have tenosynovitis. An X-ray may be taken to rule out a bone problem, and an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be done to examine the soft tissue around the tendon.

Causes

There are several possible causes of tenosynovitis. These may include:

  • Repetitive strain
  • Overuse
  • Muscle imbalances of body parts near the affected tendon (a stronger muscle next to a weaker muscle can cause opposing forces)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
  • Trauma

Sometimes tenosynovitis is classified as idiopathic, meaning no specific cause of the pain and limited motion can be found.

Treatment

There are many treatment options for tenosynovitis. These may include:

Most episodes of tenosynovitis can be successfully treated with conservative measures. Severe and worsening cases may require surgery, which involves making a small incision near the tendon to relieve pressure and give the tendon more room to glide and slide.

Prognosis

The outlook for people with tenosynovitis is excellent, and most episodes of the condition resolve within six to eight weeks. Some people have tenosynovitis for a few months, but with proper treatment, you can expect to be pain free within a few weeks.

If you know what caused your tenosynovitis, you can work to modify your activities in order to prevent future occurrences. Learning exercises to perform to keep your muscles strong and flexible may also help decrease the risk of future episodes.

Coping

Coping with tenosynovitis should not be a problem, as it typically clears within a few weeks of onset. Wearing a brace or performing regular exercises may temporarily be an annoyance, but if you remain steadfast with your treatment regimen, you can likely be clear of any pain or limitations within a few weeks.

Don't Wait to Seek Care

For most musculoskeletal and tendon problems, early management is often the best course of treatment. So, if you develop signs of tenosynovitis, check in with your healthcare provider to get started on treatment right away.

Summary

Tenosynovitis is an inflammatory condition of the tendon and its synovial sheath. It often occurs in the tendons of the fingers and thumb. While most episodes of tenosynovitis are painful, they can be managed effectively with conservative measures like rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and gentle exercise.

Severe cases of tenosynovitis may require more invasive treatments such as cortisone injections or surgery. Speak with your physician about your specific needs if you have tenosynovitis.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing redness, swelling, and pain from tenosynovitis is uncomfortable and inconvenient. The good news is that tenosynovitis is highly treatable and can clear up in a matter of weeks with proper care. By getting started on proper diagnosis and management of tenosynovitis, you can be sure to quickly return to your previous level of activity.

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