Mother's Wrist Can Be Very Painful – Here's What a Hand Surgeon Wants You to Know

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Mommy’s wrist, mother’s thumb – the condition has a few different nicknames, but any new parent who’s dealing with it will agree on one thing: it can be incredibly painful.

According to Dr. Tiffany Kadow, MD, a hand surgeon at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, mother’s thumb or mother’s wrist can be described as “a form of tendon inflammation along the thumb side of the wrist, which comes from the increased repetitive wrist and thumb motion often required to take care of an infant.”

The condition is also formally known as De Quervain’s disease or syndrome, or first dorsal compartment stenosing tenosynovitis. The two tendons that swell in De Quervain’s disease, Kadow explained, are used more by new parents repeatedly lifting a baby – hence the nickname.

“There is a band of tissue which holds these tendons against the bone so they do not shift out of place with thumb or wrist motion. When focal swelling occurs along the tendon, there is decreased space for the tendons to move under the tissue band, and the motion becomes painful,” Kadow said. “This is where the term stenosing (the space is too small) tenosynovitis (causing tendon inflammation) comes from.”

How someone treats the condition really depends on the severity of the pain and how long that pain lasts. Kadow said that if the pain can be tolerated and isn’t too severe, at-home treatment solutions could help. For example, she said one might use a brace that extends across the wrist and up the length of the thumb to protect the tendons that are irritated.

“The most effective braces have a ridged surface within them that extends up the length of the thumb in order to limit movement. Braces that do not include the thumb tend to cause more discomfort, so be careful in what you purchase.”

Certain stretches are also an option – but they should not be performed when experiencing a lot of pain, as they could irritate the tendons and make it even worse. To ensure you’re not harming your wrist or thumb during a stretch, reach out to a medical professional for their specific suggestions.

Kadow said icing for short periods of time after using the wrist or performing stretches might also be beneficial. Another at-home treatment solution is simply resting and limiting the motion of the wrist/thumb, but understandably, Kadow said that can truly be challenging for patients.

If the pain is significant or not improving with at-home treatment, the best idea is to consult a medical professional – Kadow suggested a hand specialist who can treat the condition very effectively. She said “relatively pain-free injections” tend to offer relief for many, and often, only one injection paired with bracing and rest can do the trick.

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