You’ll learn how to recognize these signs in yourself or in a mom you love – plus an easy way to reduce pain from mommy thumb without injections or splints!
Mommy Thumb is a painful condition of the thumb and wrist. Many recent news reports have highlighted this problem, which often affects new mothers.
An older name for the problem is DeQuervain’s (dee-qwer-vain’s OR deh-qwer-vain’s) tenosynovitis (just means tendon lining inflammation). Your doctor may use either term. Some doctors call it tendonitis; others call it tenosynovitis – they are talking about the same thing.
What causes Mommy Thumb?
This is a condition which involves inflammation along the tendons that pull the thumb back (like a hitchhiker’s thumb). These tendons cross over from the back of the forearm, across the wrist, and onto the backside of the thumb.
Where is the pain?
Patients can have pain anywhere from the forearm to the middle joint of the thumb. This can be a shooting or aching pain that gets worse with even light use of the hand.
Here are some common complaints of mommy thumb patients – the five main signs of the problem you need to recognize:
- trouble lifting even small objects, like a coffee cup
- pain on the thumb side of the wrist with twisting or gripping
- restricted range of movement in the thumb (thumb stiffness)
- hurts to make a fist
- weak hand – afraid I’ll drop things
Why is it called mommy thumb?
New moms get this condition because they lift their babies many dozens of times each day. When you lift a baby with your hands under her arms, your thumbs are usually pointed up and your fingers wrap around the baby’s back.
This position stresses and strains the thumb tendons in the most forceful way possible, sometimes leading to irritation and inflammation of the tendon lining.
Non-moms can develop this condition as well – usually by doing a lot of intense lifting that they’re not used to doing. For example, some patients I’ve seen with this type of tendonitis started having pain after helping someone move on a Saturday.
How is it treated?
Treatment is usually straightforward and does not involve surgery. Most hand surgeons recommend a combination of the following:
- splinting – with a “thumb spica” splint
- anti-inflammatory medications
- avoiding overuse
- gentle stretching and massage
- steroid (cortisone) injection in the office
I’ve found that steroid injections are only necessary when patients:
- are very painful all the time
- have extreme limitations of activity
- have tried splinting and other methods of treatment which haven’t worked
An easy way to help with the pain – no doctor visit required!
The key is to lift your baby with your palms up as much as possible. This position is called supination. It’s not always possible to do this with both hands, but alternating one hand palm up and the other in the usual position will reduce the strain on your tendons.
Also, the more you can cradle the baby with your forearms, arm, and fingertips while relaxing your thumb (or wearing a splint), the less you’ll stress those tendons.
Surgery for mommy thumb or DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis is done as an outpatient, under mostly local anesthesia, and takes about six minutes in the operating room. Recovery is relatively quick and takes away the problem forever in most patients.
I’ve created a video to help you understand exactly where this is happening in your thumb and wrist.
What Dr. Henley’s DeQuervain’s Tendonitis Patients Are Saying
by Cathy Jones
Dr. Henley recently did surgery to repair De Quervain’s tendonitis in my thumb. My only regret is that I waited so long to have it done! Dr. Henley and his staff at Ozark Orthopedics are professional, thorough and kind. The surgery was performed at the Arkansas Outpatient Eye Surgery Center. The staff there couldn’t have been nicer or more attentive – they helped make the whole experience stress-free. I had very minimal pain after the surgery and the recovery was remarkably easy. I am able to use my thumb normally again without constant pain. Thank you Dr. Henley!
I want to hear from you!
Do you have Mommy Thumb? What other treatments have you tried? Leave your comments below – if you have a question, ten other people are probably wondering the same thing!