The Baby May Be Giving You Mommy Thumb

The Wall Street Journal—December 7, 2010

Orthopedic surgeons estimate that between one-quarter and one-half of new mothers experience symptoms of De Quervain's. When common pain relievers don't ease the inflammation, patients are getting steroid injections, splints and even surgery. Ms. Heglar says she wore a splint after getting a cortisone shot and hasn't had problems since.
People with De Quervain's typically experience pain on the thumb side of the wrist that radiates up the forearm. Sometimes the symptoms start during pregnancy. Doctors aren't sure why, but they believe that swelling adds pressure to already stressed tendons, exacerbating the irritation. For many women (and some men), it gets worse when they are constantly lifting a child, bending down into the crib, putting their hands in an "L" shape under the child's armpits and lifting so that much of the weight is on the thumbs.
Michelle G. Carlson, a hand surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, developed De Quervain's herself after giving birth. "I thought I was really cautious, but when I had my first child, I started feeling sore and I made myself a splint right away," she says.

She says mommy thumb is the main reason she sees De Quervain's patients, although others can develop it from tasks that repeatedly stress the tendons around the thumb. "A lot of people will say, 'Oh my child is so heavy,' " Dr. Carlson says. Heavier children tend to start walking later so mothers are doing a lot more lifting for a longer time. "You don't see this develop when the child is 3 and they're walking on their own," she says.


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