mummy's wrist

Managing Mummy’s Wrist (De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis)

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Mummy’s wrist is a common wrist pain musculoskeletal condition among new mothers, and any mother who has cared for or breastfed a baby may be familiar with it. Over 60% of postpartum women experience hand and wrist pain within 2 months of giving birth. In this article, we will explore what Mummy’s Wrist is, why it happens and the physiotherapy treatment options available.

What is Mummy’s Wrist?

Mummy’s wrist actually refers to a condition called De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. It is an overuse injury to the tendons in the base of the thumb and side of the wrist. Because of overuse, the tendons and the sheath surrounding them become inflamed. As a result, actions like gripping, twisting open jars or bottles, and holding/lifting a child can be very painful. 

mummy's wrist

Symptoms of Mummy’s Wrist (De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis)

Mummy’s wrist/De Quervin’s can feel like the following:

  • Very sharp or achy pain in the side of the thumb
  • Pain that sometimes refers up into the wrist and forearm
  • Tightness in the forearm
  • Weak grip strength
  • Pins and needles or tingling in the hand
  • The base of the thumb may feel swollen and thick, and stiff to move.   

Who Gets De Quervain’s? How Common Is It?

De Quervain’s is common among new mothers or caregivers of young children because of the repetitive nature of holding, feeding (particularly breastfeeding) and picking up a young child. This also includes the repetitive movements of changing diapers and opening food jars. Pregnancy also increases the likelihood of developing it, because of hormonal changes. However, it can also affect people with very repetitive movements at work, for example, carpenters and gardeners. It is much more common in women compared to men and is also more common in people about 30-50 years of age. 

Self-management Techniques for Mummy’s Wrist

There are some simple techniques you can do at home to help manage the pain. Overall, you should focus on minimising painful movements and reducing inflammation.

1) Icing

Use a cold pack (or anything from the freezer wrapped in a tea towel) and place it on the painful area. Although it is not a cure, ice can help numb the area and reduce pain. 

2) Anti-inflammatory Medication

If you have no contra-indications, try taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID). However, NSAIDs are not advised if you are:

  • Breastfeeding 
  • Currently pregnant
  • Have a known allergy to anti-inflammatory medication

If you are unsure if NSAIDs are for you, please consult a medical professional first before taking any medication. 

3) Minimise the Use Of Your Thumb

Note the particular movements or activities that make your thumb hurt, and minimise doing them as much as you can. Here are some common activities you may need to avoid, and adjustments that you can make instead:

  • Carrying baby: Instead of lifting baby up from her underarms, scoop baby up from under her bottom, with your palm facing up. Try to keep your wrist straight, and thumbs relaxed
  • Nursing or breastfeeding: While carrying the baby, place a pillow under her. This should help to support the weight of the head without having to strain your wrist
  • Opening jars/bottles: if you’re able to, find someone to help prepare bottles and do the cleaning while your hand recovers.  
mummy's wrist splint

If you need, you can try using a hand splint which keeps your thumb in a neutral position. This will help remind you not to use or bend your thumb into painful ranges.

How Can Physiotherapy Help with Managing Mummy’s Wrist?

A physiotherapist can help treat mummy’s wrist by using a few different manual techniques. A big focus of physiotherapy treatment will also include strengthening exercises for your hand and wrist after the pain has settled, to get you back to full use of your hand.

1) Massage and joint mobilisation

Massage can help release the tension of the muscles in the forearm, and helps alleviate some of the pain. This is often done in combination with mobilisation of the wrist joints, to allow more movement and reduce stiffness. Together, these two hands-on techniques can temporarily reduce symptoms and allow you to do exercises and daily tasks with more comfort.

2) Wrist Splinting

Your physiotherapist may suggest a hand splint to minimise movement of the thumb and wrist. This splint will allow the affected thumb tendons to rest and acts as a reminder for you to avoid overusing your hand or using it in painful ways. 

3) Exercises

thumb exercises

Your physiotherapist may start you on a gentle range of movement exercises in the wrist and hand/thumb. The aim is to maintain as much thumb and wrist movement while the pain and inflammation settle down. For example, doing passive range of motion exercises for the thumb. To do this, use your other (unaffected) hand to gently move your thumb in all directions. 

Once some of the acute pain has settled, you’ll progress to light-resisted exercises using small dumbbells or a resistance band to gradually rebuild strength in the wrist. This usually involves doing wrist curls in different directions. For the hand and thumb, you may use a stress ball, rubber band, exercise putty or something similar. Hand exercises will focus on squeezing actions and stretching your thumb back. You may also do dexterity exercises like picking up buttons.    

wrist exercises

Seek Effective Physiotherapy Treatment for Wrist Pain or Thumb Pain

Caring for a newborn can be a stressful and challenging time, even without the aches, pains and injuries that can go along with it. If you are struggling with mummy’s wrist or thumb pain, try some of these tips and remember to book in with our team of women’s health physiotherapists who will be able to guide you on your road to recovery.