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What Is Finkelstein's Test?

A person with wrist pain.
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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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Finkelstein’s test is a diagnostic exam for patients with wrist pain. It is typically used to determine if the problem is due to DeQuervain's tenosynovitis. In a typical test, the doctor will slowly pull the patient’s thumb and gauge the reaction. Based on the patient’s description of pain intensity and location, a diagnosis can be made.

Some versions of Finkelstein’s test involve different manipulations. The doctor may ask the patient to tighten his or her fist over a flexed thumb. However the test is conducted, the goal is to determine whether a particular pair of tendons is injured. When the patient reports pain on top of the forearm, in an area known as the distal radius, the cause is usually DeQuervain's tenosynovitis.

The motion used in Finkelstein’s test is firm, but smooth and slow. This is because while it is important to cause enough pain to make a definitive diagnosis, fast or jerking movements are more likely to cause additional damage. It may be necessary to pull the thumb or wrist multiple times in order to make a firm assessment. In addition to using the test, a doctor will typically put pressure on the afflicted area in order to determine if there is tenderness.

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A patient may self-administer Finkelstein's test if care is taken to prevent further injury. This can be a useful indicator as to whether further medical care is needed. Ultimately, only a doctor can make the final diagnosis.

The test was named after American surgeon Harry Finkelstein. While the method had already been in use, he was the first to publish literature about the procedure. There had also been other similar methods previously used to diagnose the condition, but this was the first to provide reliable results.

DeQuervain's tenosynovitis affects the tendons in the wrist nearest the thumb. It is characterized by inflammation, which causes pain. There is no known cause for the condition, though repetitive motion can make it worse. This can include simple movement or manipulations such as making a fist or grasping an object.

Treatment and recovery time for DeQuervain's tenosynovitis depend upon the severity of the condition. If it is discovered early on, recovery usually only takes one or two months. Serious cases can require surgery and immobilizing the wrist for months. More common cases can usually be cured with different kinds of methods, including drugs and keeping the wrist still with a splint.

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