'Mommy Thumb' pains parents' overworked hands

July 9, 2013

The name may sound silly. But it's no laughing matter for anyone who's dealt with that sudden searing pain in the thumb and wrist.

Researchers found women are four times more likely to develop "mommy thumb," but they don't have to live with it.

It's a movement moms and dads do all day long: hands in a "L" shape, lifting little ones from one activity to another. And it all seems a natural part of parenting, until the pain begins.

Erin Fedie first felt the ache with her son Liam. When baby Layla arrived, the pain came back with a vengeance.

"The episodes were a lot more painful, they were completely debilitating," said Fedie.

Fedie was diagnosed with something she and most women don't know is a real condition: De Quervain's tenosynovitis, more commonly known as "mommy thumb."

It's a condition that's been around forever, but doctors suspect cases are increasing for a variety of reasons. Many newer moms are older, children are heavier, and hands are doing extra duty with all the typing and scrolling on smart phones.

"I think a lot of women deal with the pain for a long time and just accept it and work around it," said Fedie.

De Quervain's occurs when the tendons from the thumb to the wrist become inflamed. It can happen if you repeat a particular motion day after day that puts strain on the thumb.

"I just want moms to know that there's help out there and what I want them to know is we can fix you and it's not a grandiose thing you have to go through," said Kendra Pollizze, occupational therapist, Athletico.

Therapists at Athletico say the fix begins with the right diagnosis, and then some simple treatments:

  • Pick the baby up differently. Try scooping instead of lifting.

  • Check your breastfeeding position. Don't let the full weight of the baby's head rest on your hand.

  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medications can also help.

  • A special splint to immobilize the thumb can make a big difference.

"It's amazing how quickly if you just shut those tendons down temporarily how much better you are going to feel," said Fedie.

Fedie got the splint, and says it did the trick. She is also being more careful about how often she picks the kids up. She only wishes she had taken care of the pain sooner.

"I waited way too long," said Fedie. "Definitely regret a lot of painful days and that wears on our patience."

Here are some of the symptoms to look for:

  • Pain and swelling near the base of the thumb

  • Difficulty moving the thumb when grasping and pinching

  • Sticking sensation in your thumb when you try to move it

For more information on De Quervain's tenosynovitis:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

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