What is “Mommy Thumb” and How Can it Be Prevented?
As a new mom, you’re probably running on little or no sleep. You’re also likely sore and trying to understand if changes to your body are permanent or temporary. One area in which you might notice discomfort is your wrist. Known as “Mommy Thumb” or Mommy Thumb, this condition develops due to repetitive awkward movements when you pick up, hold, or nurse your newborn. Thankfully, even if you suffer from this condition, specific treatments and exercises can help you regain pain-free use of your wrist and thumb. You can also learn how to prevent a reoccurrence of the issue.
What Exactly Is “Mommy Thumb”?
Technically known as De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, this painful condition affects the tendons located on the side of your wrist at the base of the thumb. With this condition, you feel pain whenever you turn your wrist, make a fist, or grasp anything. It also causes pain in the base of the thumb and wrist whenever you use that part of your hand.
This fancy term for tendonitis earned the nickname “Mommy Thumb” because caregivers tend to experience pain when they lift a child or change diapers. However, it’s important to note that this condition doesn’t just affect moms. Dads, nannies, daycare workers, or other caregivers, as well as people who conduct repetitive wrist movements, such as swinging a hammer or tennis racket, can also experience tendon issues.
You might begin to experience pain on the thumb side of your hand whenever you make repetitive movements. Your wrist has a series of tendons that extend up to your thumb, and their constant use can cause irritation. The two affected tendons are the extensor pollics brevis and abductor pollics longus. They travel through a compartment in your wrist almost like a tunnel along the thumb side. With overuse, they may begin to swell, which can result in extreme discomfort.
What Are Some Symptoms of “Mommy Thumb”?
If you’re experiencing pain in your thumb or wrist, you might wonder if it’s a sign of “Mommy Thumb” or another more serious issue. Some of the symptoms of this condition include the following:
- Tingling found at the top of your hand.
- Squeaking from tendons in your wrist.
- Popping or catching sensations when you move your thumb.
- Swelling at the base of your thumb or wrist.
- Intensifying pain when you constantly use your thumb.
How Do Doctors Diagnose “Mommy Thumb”?
To receive a diagnosis of “Mommy Thumb”, you need to head to a doctor’s office to have a physical exam. Your physician might also order an X-ray to rule out a wrist fracture or any type of arthritis, but the X-ray itself cannot detect “Mommy Thumb”. One test that the physician might ask you to complete is the Finklestein test, which involves bending your thumb across the palm of your hand and then bending your fingers down over your thumb. If you experience pain while completing these tasks, you likely have De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.
What Treatment Options Are Available for “Mommy Thumb”?
The good news is that if you have “Mommy Thumb”, you probably don’t need surgery. This condition often improves with time and rest. Your physician might recommend several non-surgical options, such as:
- Receiving corticosteroid injections to reduce the symptoms.
- Avoiding repetitive thumb movements and forceful grips to reduce inflammation.
- Wearing a wrist thumb spica splint to immobilize the thumb.
- Applying ice to the affected area.
- Taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (this is safe to take if you’re breastfeeding).
You might also be asked to meet with a physical or occupational therapist who can offer additional suggestions on how to relieve stress on the affected area. It might take four to six weeks before you begin to feel relief from your symptoms. However, if you continue to experience pain, your physician might suggest outpatient surgery. With this type of procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision on the swollen area around the tendons to let them move without aggravation.
How Can You Prevent “Mommy Thumb”?
Pain, swelling, and tenderness on the thumb side of your wrist can be unpleasant. If you want to avoid these symptoms, try following these tips:
- Rest your hands: It’s probably easier said than done, especially if you’re a new parent or have several other children needing your attention. Ask for help from your friends and family to help with heavier tasks, and avoid tasks that increase pain.
- Change how you lift your children: If you’re like most people, you probably pick up your smaller children by placing your thumbs and index fingers into an “L” position under their arms and lifting. This movement causes additional stress. Instead, lift your children by sliding one hand under their head and upper back with the other under their bottom. Use your forearms to support their weight.
- Avoid holding your children the same way throughout the day: When feeding your newborn, use alternate holds such as the football hold or straddle hold.
- Strengthen your thumb and wrist with exercises: Place your hand flat on a table, and gently move your thumb upward and away from the table. Slowly bring it back down to the table. Another exercise you can complete involves using a rubber band. Place your fingers inside the band, and stretch it by extending your fingers slowly. Repeat these steps about 10 times, and perform these exercises three to five times daily.
Leaving “Mommy Thumb” untreated can cause discomfort when you should be enjoying time with your children. Luckily, Dr. Knight and the staff at The Hand and Wrist Institute are here to help. Dr. Knight is Dallas’s premiere hand and wrist doctor. He has more than 25 years of experience treating this issue, and while he cures many of these issues with conservative measures, he’s also performed thousands of minimally invasive procedures so his patients can get back to enjoying their children in no time. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you deal with “Mommy Thumb”.