Surgery for De Quervains Disease (“Blackberry Thumb”) | The Edinburgh Clinic

Surgery for De Quervains Disease (“Blackberry Thumb”)

Surgery for De Quervain’s disease (also known as ‘washerwoman’ strain or blackberry/gamer thumb) is explained in this document. If you have any questions about this procedure, it is best to contact a member of your professional healthcare team or speak to your GP.

Your guide to De Quervain’s disease

Wrist and thumb pain with a swelling at the base of the thumb are typical symptoms of De Quervain’s disease. This is caused when the fibrous roof of the tunnel through which the two thumb tendons pass has thickened. This restriction means their passage is difficult, hence the pain and possible difficulty with moving the joint – with the thumb sometimes locking into position.

Figure 1
De Quervain’s disease

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The benefits of surgery explained

Relief from the pain caused by this disease.

What are the alternatives to surgery?

Rest or restricting the overnight movement of the wrist and thumb can help the condition. Anti-inflammatory medicines and physiotherapy can also lessen the pain. A steroid injection into the thumb base is also successful for the majority of people.

What does surgery for De Quervain’s disease entail?

This process is usually carried out in about half an hour under general anaesthetic.

A small incision at the base of your thumb gives the surgeon access to the thickened fibrous tunnel – the site of the De Quervain’s disease – which is then cut to allow the tendons an easier passage.

Complications that may occur

General complications for any operation may include the following: 

  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection of the wound
  • Scarring

Specific complications of this operation may include the following:

  • No feeling at the back of your thumb
  • Tendons of the thumb moving out of place
  • Scar tenderness
  • Chronic pain with stiffness and lack of use of the hand known as complex regional pain syndrome

Will recovery take long?

  • Day surgery
  • Keep hand bandaged and raised for a couple of days
  • Keep exercising your fingers, elbow and shoulders gently to minimise stiffness
  • A return to normal activities is greatly helped by regular exercise
  • Get your doctor’s approval of any exercise regime you undertake
  • Quick improvement of symptoms

In summary

Painful movement of your wrist and thumb with a sensitive swelling below the thumb indicates De Quervain’s disease. Surgery relieves pain when steroid injections have failed.


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