As a mother of two young children and an orthopedic surgeon, I appreciated the recent article in the Wall Street Journal on “mommy thumb.” It took me a minute to realize that the article was referring to an orthopedic condition that we typically call DeQuervain’s tendonitis. DeQuervain’s tendonitis is caused when the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist get swollen or irritated leading to pain, swelling, and even catching along the thumb side of the wrist. We have known for years that pregnant women and young mothers are especially prone to developing this condition. However, a combination factors has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of women diagnosed with this condition.
It is now estimated that one-quarter to one-half of new mothers experience symptoms of Dequervain’s. The rise in the number of cases has been attributed to heavier babies, older new mothers, cribs that are lower to the floor, and frequent scrolling on cellular phones. Still the primary cause of the condition in new mothers is lifting the baby from under the arms which places stress on the thumb. During lifting the hand is in an “L” shape under the child’s armpit with much of the weight on the thumb.
Tips for prevention of DeQuervain’s tendonitis
• Use a “scooping” technique to lift the baby out of the crib or off the floor
• Place a pillow under the baby’s head during feeding to reduce stress on the hand and wrist
• Limit scrolling with thumb on smartphones and I phones
The good news is that with early recognition and treatment new mothers don’t need to suffer. Often a combination of anti-inflammatory medications, splinting, activity changes, and cortisone injections will relieve the pain. Surgery is an option for the small subset of patients that don’t improve.