Mommy’s Wrist (Mommy’s Thumb): Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Updated Jun 10, 2022
Mommy's Wrist

There seems to be an unquantifiable number of things parents just aren’t prepared for or expecting when it comes to bringing a newborn into the world. Recovering from childbirth, and sleep deprivation seem obvious. But the sudden onslaught of stabbing hand and wrist pain? Not part of the bargain.

I’m talking about a phenomenon commonly known as “Mommy’s wrist.” Mommy’s wrist is incredibly common and thankfully, a treatable condition. This article will equip you with the knowledge to identify, understand, and treat this pesky condition so that you can get back to parenting with far more comfort.

IN THIS ARTICLE

Mommy’s wrist is caused by inflammation over the base of the thumb and wrist. The medical name is “de Quervains Tenosynovitis,” which is a fancy term for tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon). Because of the prevalence reported in post-partum mothers, this tendonitis has been aptly dubbed “Mommy’s wrist.” 

As an Occupational Therapist, I’ve also seen this many times in clinics with patients who perform manual labor, or who spend a significant amount of time with their wrists in repetitive movement - similar to tennis players or factory workers.

Have you ever been holding your sleeping baby or trying your darndest to achieve the best breastfeeding position, only to wince in agony when you move your hand or wrist again? I remember a burning sensation in my wrist after a long contact nap where I was holding my baby in a “just right” position so that he’d stay asleep, not realizing that my wrist was in a very awkward position.  

  • Pain on the thumb side of the wrist, whether at rest or with activity.

  • Tenderness, burning, dull ache, or shooting sensation in the thumb and/or wrist.

  • Difficulty with dynamic or grasping movements of the hands or wrist (i.e. movements that change the shape of your hand), such as turning a door handle.

  • Popping or clicking sensation in the thumb or wrist.

While doctors don’t always know what causes this condition, overuse and repetitive movement can result in de Quervain's tenosynovitis. And, as luck would have it, early parenthood is riddled with repetitive movement: picking up the car seat, holding and soothing, feeding, and changing the baby.

Not to mention, due to exhaustion, parents often fall asleep (or should I say pass out?) in wonky positions. Falling asleep with wrists in hyperflexion, or very curled up, can exacerbate the inflammation in the tendons.

The first step to addressing Mommy’s wrist is recognizing that repetitive movements and awkward wrist positions are triggering the symptoms, so it’s important to try to avoid overuse of the wrist as well as hyperflexion or hyperextending.

Adequate rest or avoidance of using the hand or wrist for a week or so will usually resolve symptoms. However, how realistic is that for most parents? Not very. For many, purchasing an over-the-counter wrist splint helps to keep a neutral position of the wrist. This helps to avoid those extremes of movement and protects against further damage to the joints and tendon.

Icing and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are also effective ways to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.

If symptoms are not controlled with rest or a wrist splint, it’s important to reach out to your primary care doctor, who will likely refer you to a Physical or Occupational Therapist for treatment.

The good news is that surgery is rare, and conservative treatment for Mommy’s wrist can often be used to resolve symptoms in just a few sessions. Therapists may use manual interventions and kinesiology taping. Steroid injections may be considered as well.

Mommy’s wrist is very common, and sometimes an unfortunate “side effect” of the post-partum period. It’s deserving of more attention because often I find that parents will suffer in silence. That shouldn’t happen!

It can be hard to avoid getting Mommy’s wrist with all of the rocking, holding, cuddling, and lifting we naturally do in those early months. Be mindful of protecting your wrists when you can. If you do experience pain, don’t wait to address it. You deserve to take care of yourself, too!

Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.