Why does my wrist hurt when I pick up my baby?

baby 1 by Lauren Stevenson

You have successfully survived 9 months of pregnancy, and baby has finally arrived. Now suddenly you are experiencing pain around your thumb and wrist every time you try and breast feed, bath or lift up your little bundle of joy…. What next?!

This is a commonly told story at Wellhand. Many women and occasionally very dedicated dads develop a condition known as de Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. This is an irritation of the tendons on the side of the wrist which are responsible for the outwards movement of your thumb. These two specific tendons (extensor pollicus brevis and abductor pollicus longus) run through a narrow tunnel on the thumb side of your wrist.

The irritation of these tendons often occurs when you start to do repetitive side to side movements of your wrist and thumb, e.g. trying to lift a baby in and out of the car seat, or holding babies head while breastfeeding. These are all actions that your hand and wrist are not used to.  Like wearing a pair of shoes that fit poorly and going for a 10km walk, your tendons get increasingly more irritated with the friction in their tunnel.  For this reason, this condition tends to get worse over time instead of better.

The first step to recovery is identifying if this is in fact the reason for your pain. Have a chat with your GP or hand therapist if your symptoms fail to settle.  Treatment involves the following:

  1. Splinting your wrist and thumb – to limit the friction of the tendon
  2. Pain management – Therapy, e.g. massage, heat/cold, and tendon gliding exercises can be of benefit. Medication prescribed by your GP can also be helpful
  3. Discussing and analysing the way you use your hands when doing these new repetitive tasks and coming up with alternatives to prevent repeated injuries
  4. In cases where the above fails to help, a cortico-steroid injection into the area of pain is an option
  5. In complex cases, where all else fails, there is an operation which releases the tendons from their tight tunnel.

So no need to suffer in silence, there are things that can be done to resolve this added ache and pain.