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You Have Options When Painful 'Mommy Wrist' Strikes

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

Even after their hands start to throb from repeatedly picking up their baby, many new moms ignore the pain and try to push through it. Painful, inflamed muscles in the wrist and hand, often experienced by new mothers, are the hallmarks of what we call “mommy wrist.”

One of two similar conditions — de Quervain's tenosynovitis or carpal tunnel — may cause mommy wrist, a special concern for new mothers who often lift their child. The result is too often untreated pain, says Karen Jimenez, a Florida Hospital occupational therapist who specializes in hand therapy.

“First, they don’t know that there’s help for it and sometimes they have so much going on with a new baby that they just push through it,” she says. “We would like to see patients more quickly, but generally the moms we see wait until the pain prevents them from sleeping or from performing daily tasks like pulling the tab on their baby’s diaper.”

Seeing an occupational therapist — a medical professional who specializes in helping patients recover from injury or illness to live the life they want — can treat and prevent this pain.

New moms have enough to deal with without worrying about whether they can keep picking up their child. Florida Hospital’s rehabilitation programs serve patients throughout the Central Florida area, thanks to 18 outpatient centers staffed with experts who provide continuous care.

How ‘Mommy Wrist’ Begins

Most commonly, new moms start to feel pain in their wrist and hands within a few months of repeatedly picking up their child, Jimenez says.

Often, they believe they’ve sprained their wrist. But the pain is typically not caused by a one-time injury. Instead, the overuse of specific muscles and pressure over the nerve is usually to blame.

In both carpal tunnel and de Quervain's tenosynovitis, pain is a common symptom.

In cases of carpal tunnel, there is often a numbness and tingling because it is caused by pressure to a nerve. When tenosynovitis, or an inflammation of the tendon, is behind the pain, it is typically felt on the thumb side of the wrist and hand.

Often, women first describe their pain to an OB/GYN at a post-birth visit. In these cases, women are likely to get referred to an occupational therapist like Jimenez who can work with them to develop a plan to adapt to the condition.

But you don’t need to wait for an OB/GYN visit to get treatment; any doctor, including your family physician or an urgent care provider, can direct you to an occupational therapist.

New Ways to Hold Baby

As with similar cases of inflamed nerves and tendons, rest is the ideal first step.

“If Dad can step in, Mom can use a splint to rest her thumb and wrist,” Jimenez says. Mom can also adapt by changing the ways she holds and nurses her baby.

“We talk about using different body mechanics when picking up baby,” she says, such as scooping underneath to avoid adding stress to the thumb area.

Because the pain is often caused by swelling, it will usually lessen when the swelling is allowed to heal. The pain typically fades naturally in time if the area is no longer being overused.

“Babies grow and change, and the way you hold them changes, too,” Jimenez said. When pain doesn’t go away, there are other options for treatment including steroid injections.

Jimenez wants new moms to know that there is something that she and other occupational therapists can do to help.

“You don’t have to suffer through it,” she says.

Florida Hospital offers rehab services at 18 Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation locations throughout Central Florida. The team knows how moms love to hold their babies, and we won’t let mommy wrist get between you and your child.

To make an appointment, call 407-303-8080 or reserve a time online at our website.