Wrist Tendonitis Signs, Causes, and Treatments

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Wrist tendonitis is a common condition. It involves irritation and inflammation of a tendon at the wrist joint.

This joint has many tendons around it. Tendonitis usually affects one. But it can involve two or more.

Wrist tendonitis often occurs where tendons cross each other or pass over a bony area. These are possible sites of irritation. They can lead to pain when you move the wrist.

This article looks at the anatomy of wrist tendons, symptoms and causes of wrist tendonitis, and how it's diagnosed and treated.

Wrist Tendonitis Treatment

Verywell / Joshua Seong

Anatomy of the Wrist Tendons

Tendons are structures that connect a muscle to bone. That allows for movement of a joint.

The wrist tendons connect your forearm muscles to the hand and finger bones. They're divided into two groups:

  • Extensors: Three tendons across the back of the wrist that bend the wrist backward
  • Flexors: Three tendons across the front of the wrist that bend the wrist forward

Tendon Sheaths

The wrist tendons glide through fluid-filled tendon sheaths. These help with smooth movement. When the sheath is inflamed, it's called tenosynovitis.

Wrist Tendonitis Symptoms

Symptoms of wrist tendonitis include:

  • Pain that's worse with movement
  • Swelling around the wrist joint
  • Warmth and redness
  • Grinding sensations (crepitus) with movement
1:34

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This video has been medically reviewed by Oluseun Olufade, MD.

Causes

Any tendon can become irritated and cause pain. But tendonitis is more common in a few specific tendons. That's due to their anatomy plus common activities.

Tendonitis can be caused by:

  • Trauma
  • Overuse
  • Repetitive movement

It can also be caused by several conditions, including:

Some of these causes are related more to inflammation. In others, the main feature is chronic damage to the tendon (tendinosis).

Recap

Six main tendons surround your wrist joint. When they're irritated, you may have pain, swelling, and grinding sensations. This is tendonitis. Causes include injury, overuse, repetitive movement, and some medical conditions.

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers diagnose wrist tendonitis based in part on your symptoms. They'll also give you a physical exam.

Specific stretches can be used to identify which tendon is hurting. One example is a test for de Quervain's tenosynovitis. That's a type of tendonitis often seen shortly after childbirth.

To test for it, your provider will have you:

  • Bend your thumb into your palm
  • Make a fist around it
  • Bend your wrist toward your pinky finger

If the thumb side of your wrist hurts, it's most likely de Quervain's. This is called the Finkelstein test.

Imaging typically isn't needed to diagnose tendonitis. But your provider may want an X-ray to check for fractures or arthritis. An X-ray doesn't show tendonitis.

Ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be useful, though. They can show whether there's fluid around the aggravated tendon.

Treatment

Your healthcare provider will choose treatments based on several factors. They include the location, type, and severity of your tendonitis.

Early goals are usually controlling inflammation and allowing the tendon time to heal. That may involve:

  • Immobilization: A splint or cast prevents further irritation and allows for rest.
  • Icing: Icing a few times a day lowers inflammation and reduces swelling and pain. Be sure you ice properly.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs help lower inflammation and pain. Over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs are available.

If those don't work, other options are:

  • Hand therapy: This specialized physical therapy may include stretching and strengthening exercises, electrical stimulation (TENS), ultrasound, and possibly splints or supports.
  • Cortisone injection: A powerful anti-inflammatory is injected right into the inflamed area. You can only have a few injections, though. Too many can weaken tendons.
  • Surgery: This is reserved for when other treatments fail. It may involve removing inflamed tissues or releasing pressure from tight tendon sheaths.

Recap

Diagnosing tendonitis involves looking at your symptoms, a physical exam, and possibly simple stretching tests. Imaging may be done depending on what your healthcare provider suspects.

Treatment may involve simple strategies like NSAIDs and ice. Or you may need therapy, steroid injections, or surgery.

Preventing Recurrence

You can take a number of steps to prevent flare-ups of wrist tendonitis. The most important one is to modify activities that aggravate it.

This may mean changing the way you lift or adjusting your grip. Other steps include:

  • Wearing a splint, brace, or wrap during activities that irritate your wrist.
  • Be careful not to mask symptoms with medication. That can lead you to overuse your wrist without realizing it.
  • Prepare your tendons for activity with gentle stretching and heat. Ice afterward to quiet inflammation.

If you can't control the symptoms, see your healthcare provider.

Summary

Tendonitis is common in the six main tendons around your wrist joint. This painful condition can be caused by injury, overuse, and inflammatory disorders.

It's diagnosed based on symptoms, a physical exam, and simple tests. You may or may not be sent for imaging, like X-rays or an MRI.

Treatment with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication may help. Hand therapy and steroid injections may work, as well. Surgery is a last resort.

Modify your activities to keep tendonitis from coming back. If you need help with this, talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist.

A Word From Verywell

Wrist tendonitis can be painful and debilitating. Don't think that you just have to live with it. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options.

Most cases of wrist tendonitis do get a lot better with treatment. Stick to the regimen and be careful how you use the injured wrist. That'll help you get back to doing the activities you enjoy.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vuillemin V, Guerini H, Bard H, Morvan G. Stenosing tenosynovitis. J Ultrasound. 2012;15(1):20-8. doi:10.1016/j.jus.2012.02.002

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tendonitis.

  3. University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine. Tendonitis treatments.

  4. Diabetes in Control. Tendon pain linked to diabetes.

  5. Goel R, Abzug JM. de Quervain's tenosynovitis: a review of the rehabilitative options. Hand (N Y). 2015;10(1):1-5. doi:10.1007/s11552-014-9649-3

Additional Reading
  • Adams JE, Habbu R. Tendinopathies of the hand and wrist [published correction appears in J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2016 Feb;24(2):123]. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2015;23(12):741-750. doi:10.5435/JAAOS-D-14-00216