In addition to feelings of love and joy, some parents and caregivers experience severe pain in their wrists after welcoming home a new baby. Inflammation and pain caused by tendonitis could be to blame. Also known as mother’s thumb, de Quervain’s tendonitis affects the thumb tendon. Who’s Susceptible? In a Nov. 26, 2007, Gather.com article about wrist pain, Dr. Vicky McEvoy, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, explains that de Quervain’s tendonitis can affect anyone who performs a lot of handwork or repetitive hand movements. New mothers and grandmothers are particularly susceptible to pain at the base of the thumb because they’re more likely to repeatedly pick up their first child or grandchild. This explains how de Quervain’s tendonitis earned the nickname “mother’s thumb.” Differences Between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and de Quervain’s Tendonitis Sometimes confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, de Quervain’s tendonitis is similar to other types of tendonitis caused by overuse. McEvoy explains the difference. “In carpal tunnel syndrome, pain is usually centered on the inside of your wrist where nerves and tendons pass through a narrow tunnel-like space,” McEvoy writes. “De Quervain’s tendonitis, however, involves just the thumb tendon, which runs through a canal at the base of the thumb at the back of the hand.” Signs of de Quervain’s Tendonitis McEvoy urges patients to look for these signs of mother’s thumb:
- Pain and/or swelling on the wrist’s thumb side at the back of the wrist
- Increased pain while forming a fist, grasping or holding objects, or turning the wrist
- A snapping or catching feeling when moving the thumb, much like a trigger finger.
How to Treat Mother’s Thumb First, it is important to seek medical advice and a diagnosis from a trained health care professional in order to rule out a bone fracture or other problems. For many, waiting to see if the pain gets better is not an option. “People get the best results when they start to treat it early rather than ignore it,” says Susan Stahl, an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist at Neu Physical Therapy in Lawrence, Kan. Most treatment regimens include the following:
- Limiting and avoiding activities that aggravate the problem. Sufferers should try to use the unaffected hand if possible, which is not an option for those who have pain in both wrists.
- Using ergonomically designed kitchen and gardening tools can help, says Stahl. People with de Quervain’s tendonitis often report severe pain while performing simple tasks such as turning a key, fastening a bra or pulling up socks.
- Wearing a wrist brace or splint. Seek the advice of a medical professional to find the best fit. A custom-made brace might be the most effective.
- Applying ice for 5 to 15 minutes, several times a day.
- Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce inflammation.
When Home Remedies Don’t Work More serious cases of de Quervain’s tendonitis require physical therapy. Cortisone-like or steroid injections also can be extremely effective at relieving inflammation and pain, according to McEvoy. Surgery is a rarely used option, which opens the channel where the tendons run from the thumb. “Generally the patients I’ve seen do not require surgery,” Stahl says. Most people respond to a combination of splinting, over-the-counter medications, physical therapy and modification behaviors. Because up to 50 percent of the hand’s function relates to the thumb, de Quervain’s tendonitis can have a serious impact on one’s ability to perform everyday functions. Severe inflammation and pain can adversely affect one’s quality of life. Seeking medical care early is critical for successful treatment of mother’s thumb.
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