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Everything you need to know about mommy thumb

Show of hands (or thumbs), how many of you have experienced thumb and/or wrist pain while trying to live your best mom life? If you’re like me, you slowly noticed increasing pain and tenderness while using your thumb and wrist during your child’s first year of life.

If this sounds like you, read on to learn more about what exactly Mommy Thumb is! PS- this includes wrist pain!

​​What is Mommy’s Thumb?

Mommy’s thumb or Mother’s thumb is a painful condition that affects the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. It is officially called De Quervain’s tenosynovitis (tendonitis), a type of tendonitis that commonly affects people who recently gave birth and caregivers of young children, hence the nickname.

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is a painful inflammation of tendons in your wrist and lower thumb. When these swollen thumbs rub against the narrow tunnel they pass through, it causes pain at the base of your thumb and into the lower arm.

​​Who can get Mommy Thumb?

Anyone can get mommy’s thumb but it is most common in women who just recently gave birth. It is often seen in people between the ages of 30 to 50 years old, especially those who work or have hobbies that involve repetitive wrist movements. 

Women are three times more likely to have it than men. The estimated prevalence of mommy’s thumb is about 0.5% in men and 1.3% in women. 

​What are the causes of Mommy Thumb?

Typically, this is an overuse injury, meaning, we’ve overused our thumb joint (at the base of our thumb and wrist). It can be diagnosed by history and physical examination and typically treatment includes seeing a hand therapist (physical therapist or occupational therapist). An x-ray can sometimes help rule out other conditions like arthritis or wrist fracture but a positive Finkelstein’s test can help identify the condition.

In case you want the low down on the anatomy behind this? Read on:

Mommy Thumb can be attributed to myxoid degeneration, a process in which the connective tissues are replaced by a gelatinous substance. This deposition results in the thickening of the tendon sheath that painfully entraps the abductor pollicis longus (APL) and extensor pollicis brevis (EPB) tendons.

Repetitive wrist motion, specifically motion requiring thumb radial abduction and simultaneous extension and radial wrist deviation may also cause this condition. 

Moreso, activities such as playing the piano, golfing, carpentry, typing, texting, holding a baby for a long time in certain positions, and other repetitive actions like gripping, grasping, clenching, pinching, and wringing of objects can also be some other causes of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

What are the risk factors for getting De Quervain’s tenosynovitis?

Risk factors for De Quervain’s tenosynovitis include the following:

  • Age. If you’re between the ages of 30 and 50, you have a higher risk of developing de Quervain’s tenosynovitis than do other age groups, including children
  • Sex. Women are 8-10 times more likely to get it than men.
  • Pregnancy. The condition often happens just after pregnancy. 
  • Baby/Child care. Lifting your child repeatedly involves using your thumbs as leverage and may also be associated with the condition. Hence, this repeated motion can further bring the condition on.
  • Job or hobbies that involve repetitive hand and wrist motions. These may contribute to developing De Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

If left untreated, it might make it hard for you to use your hand and wrist properly and limit your wrist’s range of motion.

Symptoms

Patients who have De Quervain’s tenosynovitis often complain of pain near the base of the thumb associated with swelling. Other symptoms may include:

  • Increased pain with thumb or wrist movements
  • A dull or sharp pain that comes suddenly or slowly
  • Swelling makes hand movement difficult
  • Increased pain when thumb or wrists are moving
  • Redness or warmth around the affected area
  • Snapping or catching sensation when using or moving the thumb
  • Pain that extends to the thumb and forearm
  • A cyst filled with fluid on the affected area

Mamas who develop De Quervain’s tenosynovitis after giving birth can start experiencing symptoms around 4-6 weeks.

Please don’t feel devastated if you are experiencing this pain! De Quervain’s tenosynovitis can be treated. 

Don’t hesitate to seek physical therapy before the symptoms get worse!

If you are interested in learning more on what you can do to heal from these symptoms, sign up below to join my waitlist for my Mommy Thumb Mini Course!

From your girl on the internet that cares about your motherhood journey

xo, Dr. Betsey

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