Mommy Thumb: Causes, Treatments and Prevention

Many new mothers experience inflammation near the thumb and wrist from repeatedly lifting their heavy babies under their arms. This condition, commonly called mommy thumb, is also medically known as De Quervain's tendinitis or tenosynoviti. It is not only limited to mommies or women, but may also occur in men and other people who frequently use smart phones. Among new mommies, it usually occurs in older mothers with heavy babies, especially in those who frequently have to lift them up from low cribs. It results from pointing up the thumb and wrapping the other fingers around the back of the heavy baby, which will cause inflammation in the tendons below the thumb.

What Are the Symptoms of Mommy Thumb?

A mommy thumb causes pain and swelling around the base of the thumb. It can also make pinching or grasping movements difficult when you are doing some activities. You may also experience a sticking sensation in the thumb when you try to move it.

Other movements of the wrist and forearm may increase the pain. Without treatment, the pain may affect the thumb and forearm.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you have tried to relieve your symptoms by avoiding the usual movements that make your thumb sore, apply cold compress to the area and take pain-relievers such as Advil or Motrin, but if the pain does not go away after a few days, you should consult your doctor. Or if it affects your movements and interferes with daily activities, see a doctor as soon as possible.

What Causes Mommy Thumb?

1.    Overuse of Wrist

Long term use of the wrist is the usual cause of mommy thumbs. Overuse of the major wrist tendons and lower thumb results from repeated gripping, grasping, clenching, pinching or wringing with the hand. This results in irritation and thickening of the sheath covering the tendons, which restricts their movement. It is more common among women, especially among those who are pregnant or taking care of babies. Some jobs or activities involving repetitive wrist movements may also cause de Quervain's tenosynovitis.

2.    Direct Injury of Wrist or Tendon

Direct injury and scar tissue formation can cause restriction of movement in these tendons.

3.    Arthritis

Inflammation of the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also cause mommy thumb.

In general, middle-aged people from 30 to 50 have a greater risk of developing this condition than others.

How Can Mommy Thumb Be Treated?

1.    Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) may be taken to relieve swelling and inflammation. Corticosteroid injections may be needed if the swelling does not go away. Early treatment results in faster recovery.

2.    Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for mommy thumb involves immobilizing the wrist using a splint or a brace, avoiding repetitive movements, avoiding pinching movements, and applying a cold compress to the area affected.

A physical therapist can recommend wrist exercises to relieve pain and strengthen your muscles and make a well-fitting splint that suits you.

3.    Surgery

In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to release the sheath surrounding the wrist tendons, which will reduce pressure, restore their function, strengthen your wrist and prevent recurrence.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Mommy Thumb?

1.    Change Breastfeeding Position

Breastfeeding can put a strain on your wrist and increase inflammation. Changing the baby's position and supporting her head with a pillow can reduce the strain on your hand and wrist.

2.    Give Wrist Time to Heal

Allow your wrist to heal by applying ice or cold compress, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and asking someone else in your home to lift and carry the baby. Limit your use of smart phones which will aggravate the pain and prevent proper healing of inflamed tendons.

3.    Use a Splint

Use a spica splint to immobilize your thumb. This will effectively reduce swelling and discomfort, especially when done early and consistently.

4.    Lift Baby with Palm

The trick to avoid straining the wrist is to use the palms instead of relying on the wrist in lifting up the baby. With the other hand in usual position, use each palm alternately. Cradle your baby using the forearm and fingers while relaxing the thumb to put less strain on your tendons.

The video gives a clear explanation of mommy thumb: