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'Mommy Thumb' On the Rise

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Guest blogger Jessica Katz: A few of my mommy friends have been suffering from a mysterious but painful ailment. It has made it impossible for them to pick up their babies and do simple tasks such as bathing. Then they were diagnosed with something called "mommy thumb."

woman holding wrist
Also known as De Quervain's tendonitis, mommy thumb is an inflammation of the tendons from the thumb down to the wrist. Although the condition has been around as long as parents have hoisted their children, doctors say that a combination of heavier children, older new mothers, cribs that are lower to the floor and frequent scrolling and typing on smartphones has sent the number of cases skyward.

One friend thought she had sprained her wrist and subsequently wore a brace, which made it difficult for her to take care of her son. She was in a lot of pain. Then another new mom said, "You didn't sprain your wrist. You have mommy thumb!"

Orthopedic surgeons estimate that between one quarter and one half of new mothers experience the symptoms of De Quervain's. When common pain relievers don't ease the inflammation, patients are getting steroid injections, splints and even surgery. 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), the pain gets worse once they are constantly lifting a child, bending down into the crib, putting their hands in an "L" shape under a child's armpits and lifting so that much of the weight is on the thumbs. Mommy thumb mainly affects two tendons: the abductor pollicis longus (or long thumb abductor) and the extensor pollicis brevis (or short thumb extensor). The tendons come into play when the thumb is moved in a different plane from the hand, as when placing hands flat on a table and lifting the thumb toward the ceiling.

If ice and anti-inflammatory drugs don't help, most patients are fitted with a splint that prevents them from moving the thumb and are also given a steroid injection, which decreases the inflammation, says Stephen Troum, a hand surgeon in Bedford, Texas, and a spokesman for the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, a doctors' association.

Moms, have you ever experienced mommy thumb? Tell us!

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
???? December 15, 2010, 1:01 PM

Mommy thumb,I don’t get it!

Destiny December 15, 2010, 3:10 PM

I really think I have this and my baby was 9lbs 2.8oz when he was born now he is 3 months old and weighs probably 18lbs. I have all of the symptoms that are displayed and I think it is from lifting my baby in an L shape from his pallet which is on the floor and lifting him from his crib. I am going to doctor to have this checked, maybe he can help with the pain.

Sheila December 15, 2010, 4:04 PM

I was diagnosed when my first daughter was 9 months old. I had a cortizone injection in my wrist. It elevated the pain with a few days. The splints and creams do not work at all. I has this repeated a few time until my daughter could get around on her own.

Denise December 16, 2010, 8:47 PM

I am so glad to know what the heck was going on with my Thumb. I have a bitty little 18 month old girl, she just passed 20 lbs. So I thought Mommy Thumb was a joke my husband made up, but here it is, Mommy Thumb. Let’s hope it just goes away the more the kids walk and the less we pick them up.

not a mom... December 17, 2010, 9:17 PM

Not a mom…but I’ve had DeQuervain’s inflammation for several years from lifting too much weight with my thumbs. Try to lift with your whole hand/arm and not just your fingers and it tends to go away. So unless your child is the only heavy thing you are lifting…it won’t go away just because they are walking!

E.C. December 20, 2010, 8:06 PM

Yepp, I had that eight years ago. But it started before my son was born & lasted for about 6 months after that. I have severe edema & the swelling during pregnancy is what started it so early. Then, after he was born, the swelling got worse & my thumb was completely “frozen”. I had to take Celebrex & get steroid shots. Eventually it got better but 6 months is a long time to deal with the pain. Taking Celebrex was probably the most help for the pain.

jill simonian December 29, 2010, 11:00 AM

i’ve got it RIGHT NOW! and have had it for about a month. the worst.

Lynda December 30, 2010, 9:58 PM

I have it right now too. I was trying to think of reasons why my thumbs ache and go numb so much in the past few weeks. For me, it radiates into my wrist and slightly into my index fingers on both hands. It could also be a bit of carpal tunnel too. Then I read an article about Mommy Thumb and realized I basically pick up my 45 lb 4 year old on my thumbs! I’m trying to be conscious of it now and hopefully it will just go away on its own…

Tiffannie December 31, 2010, 8:20 AM

I had terrible Carpal Tunnel when I was pregnant and now seem to have “Mommy thumb” in the same hand as my carpal tunnel? are these linked in any way?

CN Henley, MD March 12, 2011, 8:32 PM

Mommy thumb and carpal tunnel are not linked directly, but both can come from swelling in tendon linings. The tendons involved in each problem are in two separate locations.

I created a video on Mommy Thumb - you can see me demonstrate a simple technique that helps avoid pain.

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