“Mommy thumb” (de Quervain’s tenosynovitis) is a common condition among new mothers when tendons from the thumb to the wrist are inflamed causing mild discomfort to severe pain on the thumb side of the wrist.
While anyone can develop de Quervain’s, mommy thumb is often caused by stress on the wrist among new mothers who frequently lift their babies. Studies show that women are four times more likely than men to develop de Quervain’s.
Prevention of mommy thumb is challenging as mothers need to lift their children repeatedly — up to 30 times daily! Mommy thumb rarely goes away on its own, therefore early recognition and physiotherapy treatment is crucial.
5 ways to relieve mommy thumb pain
- Change your smartphone scrolling habits
Scrolling and tapping your smartphone can cause overuse of already-inflamed tendons that may compound your pain and prevent proper healing. If your smartphone has a thumbprint unlock system, add more prints to avoid repeated use of the same thumb. Whenever you’re scrolling or tapping on your smartphone, try doing so with your index finger. This will save your thumb from that discomfort you’ve been feeling.
- Alter your hand position when holding your baby
If you’re feeling discomfort the most important thing you can do to prevent more irritation of your wrist tendons is to change how you lift your baby. Instead of picking up your baby under their arms, try to scoop her up by lifting under her bottom and keep the palm of your hand facing up. This position redistributes pressure that aggravates tendons when you lift with your hands in an “L” shape. When you lift with your fingers on your baby’s back and thumbs on her chest, you strain your thumb and wrist. Try to avoid the “L” position of your thumb and index finger and keep your thumb close to the palm of your hand when performing repetitive activities.
- Relax your wrist
Use your non-dominant hand for everyday activities like brushing your teeth, reaching for items in your kitchen cabinet and eating snacks. Icing your wrist frequently is recommended along with anti-inflammatory medication (just make sure you ask your doctor before taking any medication when breastfeeding). If possible, ask your partner to do the heavy lifting and carrying your baby as needed to give your wrist time to heal.
- Safety when breastfeeding
Nursing positions can strain your wrist, especially when you are already experiencing inflammation. Use a cushion for support to avoid your baby’s weight bearing on your hand.
- Wear a splint
A spica splint immobilizing your thumb is effective in reducing swelling of your tendon and helps to ease discomfort, especially when used as soon as symptoms begin. Our patients typically see improvement with physiotherapy treatment (ultrasound, laser therapy, icing and suctioning cups) and splint support within a few weeks. Consistency is key.
Think you might have mommy thumb?