What is "washerwoman's sprain"?

Washerwoman's sprain was used to describe a painful condition of the hand and wrist 100 years ago. Women who made their living washing clothes developed painful swelling caused by a form of tendinitis. Today, this condition is called de Quervain's disease. It can affect anyone who repeatedly uses the wrist and hand in a sideways or wringing motion.

De Quervain's disease is an inflammatory condition that affects two tendons of the thumb where they cross the wrist. The tendons are covered by a lining and tucked inside a canal that allows them to glide back and forth during movement. When the tendons are used over and over, irritation leads to inflammation. This leads to a thickening of the tendons and their coverings. Pain, swelling, and loss of thumb motion are the primary symptoms.

Women are the most susceptible to this problem. Jobs that require a repetitive sideways motion of the wrist with the hand and thumb in a gripped position also lead to de Quervain's. Hairdressers, musicians, carpenters, skiers, and assembly line workers are especially at risk.