Wrist and thumb pain after pregnancy?
It has been a long journey and you’ve been through a lot over the last 10 months. You’re already exhausted and you’ve only just started your life with a new addition to the family. Life doesn’t get much busier than this, right?! How frustrating then that you’re having to battle through this new period with a sore wrist and thumb. If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. One study from 2017 reported over 50% of women experienced wrist pain following delivery of their baby, and over 80% of those still had pain two months on. Read on to find out why.
The most common cause of wrist and thumb pain after pregnancy is a condition called De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. That’s a bit of a mouthful so let us explain simply. There are a few different tendons which run from muscles in the forearm along the thumb side of the wrist, which act to move the thumb away from the hand when the palm is held out flat. The tendons are covered in a thin ‘sheath’ of tissue which provides important lubrication to allow for smooth movement. On their journey from the forearm, the tendons and their sheaths have to pass through a little tunnel, made up of bone and soft tissue. In De Quervain’s, the tendons and/or sheaths become thickened and this leads to problems with movement through the tunnel.
It is thought that new mums are at higher risk of developing this condition due to the repetitive nature of lifting and holding their baby. These movements put the hand, thumb and wrist into a compromised position and increases strain through those tissues. It has also been suggested that increased fluid retention and hormonal changes following pregnancy could also be involved in the development of this condition.
Another common cause of wrist and hand pain following pregnancy is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This condition involves the pinching of a nerve as it passes through the wrist. This is different from De Quervain’s in that a patient will experience pins and needles and/or numbness in the hand as well as wrist pain—a blog topic for another month!
Signs and symptoms
If you develop this condition you can expect the following:
- Pain and/or swelling around the base of the thumb, and thumb side of the wrist
- Pain increased by thumb and wrist movements
- Pain associated with gripping, lifting and twisting objects
- Popping/clicking with wrist movements (in severe cases)
If you are reading this and alarm bells are already ringing, then you may want to consider giving us a call to book an appointment. We can help you with this problem so read on to see what treatment we offer.
As this is a busy time of your life, our aim will be to get you out of pain and functioning as soon as possible. After all, you have a little one to prioritise now and it’s not like you can just stop parenting to allow your body to heal. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Our treatment for De Quervain’s may include any or all of the below options:
- Rest and splinting: In the initial stages, you may need to alter how much you do with your wrist and thumb. Getting some extra help around the house from friends and family may help to take the load off. Using feeding pillows to support the baby during meal times is another way to reduce your ‘holding’ time. Wearing a splint or brace can help to reduce aggravating movements in key areas of the wrist whilst still allowing you to move and perform your everyday We may fit you with one of these if we think it is necessary.
- Massage and joint mobilisation: To release tight muscles and restore range of motion to the hand, wrist and forearm joints.
- Taping: To support the wrist or aid with drainage of the wrist area back up the limb towards the heart.
- Stretching: To combat any tightness of the hand and forearm muscles. You’ll also need to do some of these at home.
- Graded strengthening exercises: Evidence is pointing more towards gradual loading exercises to rehabilitate the tendon and restore full movement and strength to the tissues.
Other treatment options include therapeutic ultrasound and corticosteroid injections for pain relief. For severe or persistent cases that don’t respond to a more conservative approach, a surgical opinion may be required. We will always work hard to ensure you don’t reach that point because the recovery is always longer and it means a time period where your function will be much reduced, which is always difficult when you have a little one.
Our advice to you is to not let it get to that in the first place. No matter how trivial you think it is, if you start to feel pain in your wrist in the early days of motherhood, please get in touch with us here at Physiotherapy for Women. We can put all of the above in place straight away to avoid your pain getting out of control. That means more time for you and your baby. What could be more important at this time?
See you next month!
How important are you to yourself?
Hello readers! We trust everyone had a superb festive season. Now that the fun and frolics are over for another year, it’s back to the routine of everyday life… This may mean many of life’s stresses that disappeared temporarily during the Christmas carnage will rear their head again. This can be a bit of a shock to the system and before you know it, you’re immersed in work, family, keeping your home clean and slaving over the hob. But what about you? Where do YOU fit in to all of this? It’s easy to get caught up in life and forget about number one. Here at Physiotherapy for Women, we always ask the question ‘How important are you to yourself?’. Let’s discuss why this is important and what you can do to ensure you make 2020 more about you.
Self-care is a vital part of life. We know it’s a bit of a cliché, but if you don’t look after yourself first, how can you look after others, or work, or do anything? You’d be surprised how little time many of our patients spend looking after themselves. It often takes being in pain for someone to realise that something has to give, and change is needed. It’s also regularly the case that someone is stressed, exhausted and moving poorly (and not enough too!), which all play a role in why they have pain. And this is where we ask the questions about self-awareness and attitudes towards themselves.
Let’s give you an example… A working mum comes to us for help with neck and shoulder pain. She has two children, one at school, one at daycare, and her and her partner work a job each. The week is full of running around organising the kid’s drop-offs and pick-ups, working, cooking, cleaning and washing. Weekends are full of kids sports and visiting relatives. Sound familiar? Where is the time for anything else? For many it’s a source of stress in itself. Being time poor is a huge factor in why people fail to look after themselves and end up in pain (and stay there). For this working mum, her pain is now affecting her ability to ‘do’ life. The really hard thing is, something has to give if the cycle is to be broken and for her pain to become a thing of the past. She needs to prioritise self-care and learn that it is OK to spend time on herself. It is pivotal that she does, so she can get back on track ‘doing’ life.
As her physiotherapist, our primary goal is to get her out of pain. Our second goal is to keep her out of pain. And this is where advice on lifestyle, exercise and moving well (and often) comes into play. One of the hardest jobs we have as a physio is educating people on how to change their lives, so they can work towards preventing injury rather than waiting for it to happen and then seeking help. In the case of the working mum, it involves helping her change her attitude towards self-care to ensure she is running at 100%, so she can give everything she needs to her family and work. Some of the topics we might discuss with her and suggest changes to may include:
- Exercise — a must for all humans. Our important bodily functions rely on us moving regularly. Try taking a walk in the evening once the kids are in bed (get your partner/family member/friend to watch over them). It will allow you to unwind from the days’ events whilst giving your body some valuable movement. Alternatively, reserve one evening in the week or weekend to attend a yoga or pilates class. Or think about what you can do at home (incidental exercise while doing mundane tasks, or a nightly 20 minutes of exercise in the lounge room or on the deck!)
- Diet — a sticking point for time-poor people, but eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods will keep your energy levels pumping and ready for everything. Diets high in fast or nutrient poor food will leave you sluggish and tired. Try packing your own healthy lunch and snacks, when you pack your child’s lunchbox!
- Meditation or mindfulness — a great way to have you time. It only requires 10-15 minutes a day and is a fantastic way to unwind and clear the mind. It takes practice but can be very beneficial to easing stress. We can advise on where to get started.
- Keep a gratitude diary — every morning when you wake up, immediately write down 5 things you are grateful for. While you can pop it in the ‘notes’ section on your phone, try opting for a pad and paper on your bedside table. It helps give you focus on what’s important to you. This is great motivation for keeping yourself healthy, happy and grateful.
There are many other areas we may discuss with you. We won’t pretend it’s easy to make these changes, but we are here to help guide you through all of it one bit at a time. Our main message here is that whilst we appreciate you have many responsibilities and important things in your life, we would like you to make YOU a high priority. Yes, this is us telling you to read that book, take that bath and take up that hobby you’ve always wanted to! Be important to yourself and make 2020 a year for self-care.
Knee pain: The ins and outs of patellofemoral pain
Do you get knee pain? Well this month we are looking at the knee joint and specifically talking about patellofemoral pain. So what does the word patellofemoral actually mean? You can break it down into ‘patello’, which refers to the knee cap, and ‘femoral’ which refers to the long bone (the femur) that runs down your thigh from your hip to your knee (remember, the thigh bone connects to the leg bone, the leg bone connects to the ankle bone, and so on!). The connection between your kneecap and thigh bone is called the patellofemoral joint and we’re going to look at some of the problems associated with this part of the body.
The phrase ‘patellofemoral pain’ is an umbrella term for many causes of pain at the front of the knee. The knee is a complex joint made up of lots of different parts, ranging from the bones that form it, the ligaments that hold the bones together and the various soft tissue parts that form and cross the joint, such as joint capsules, muscles, tendons and fat tissue. All of these (and more) can be involved in pain at the front of the knee.
The knee can bend and straighten, as well as twist and shear forwards and backwards a little. When our knee is straight, the kneecap, which is held over the knee within the tendon of the quad (thigh) muscles, sits over the end of the thigh bone. As we bend our knee, the surface of the knee cap and end of the thigh bone come closer together and slide over each other in a lovely smooth way, allowing us to perform movements like squatting, jumping, walking and running (basically anything that bends the knee) more efficiently.
What are the causes?
The main causes of patellofemoral pain include overuse of the various parts that make up the knee, or problems that affect the smooth gliding or ‘tracking’ of the kneecap over the end of the thigh bone while moving.
With an overuse issue, think of a person who spends their days walking up and down stairs, or having to squat down constantly. The constant bending and straightening of the knee can lead to overloading of the joint and surrounding tissues, leading to irritation and pain. Another example is that of a runner who may start to get knee pain having recently increased the distance or the amount of days in the week they run.
As we mentioned earlier, the kneecap is held within the quad tendon as it crosses the knee. The quads attach higher up at the pelvis and hips, and down below on the shin bone. So it makes sense that any issue that affects the back, pelvis, hips, ankle and feet can all lead to poor or incorrect tracking of the kneecap over the joint. Common issues here include muscle weakness of the glutes (buttock), quads and lower leg muscles, a twisted thigh or leg bone, and weakness in the ankles and feet, such as having a collapsed arch of the foot. Some people also have a misshapen kneecap, or one that doesn’t sit perfectly over the joint as it should, which can affect the line of tracking over the joint. Throw in having to consider a person’s size and weight, how they walk and run, and the types of footwear they use, and you can see there is a lot to consider.
Unfortunately ladies, this is one of those conditions that affects us more than our male counterparts. Researchers believe this may be because we tend to have wider hips than a man (yep, thanks for that). A woman’s wider pelvis increases the angle where the bones in the knee joint meet. Therefore, leaving more room for imbalance, misalignment or issues moving. Interestingly, research exists that looks into the link between the menstrual cycle and knee pain in women. Whilst the evidence is not 100% conclusive, it is believed that during the different phases of the menstrual cycle, sex hormones can affect the activation of the thigh muscles (quads) and how the body’s nervous system functions during lower limb movement, leaving a woman at potentially higher risk of injury in the knee region. Watch this space… When research catches up, we’ll fill you in on the finer details! What doesn’t break us, makes us stronger eh!
So, what can we do to help? Well prevention is key at first:
- Make sure you’re strong
- Think about correct knee alignment when walking, running, stair climbing and so on.
- People within a healthy weight limit also tend to experience less pain.
- When starting an activity, increase intensity gradually.
- Always warm up properly.
- Keep up those stretches!
But if you do have knee pain, it’s best to source help to find out what is going on. Because there can be a variety of reasons for knee pain, there is, of course, a variety of treatments. Here at Physio for Women, we assess all knee pain in a consultation. We figure out what is causing the issue, and help you fix the underlying cause. This could be treatment via massage or other manual therapy techniques, strengthening or stretching exercises, postural alignment work and more.
So, there’s no knee-d to be experiencing knee pain! Come and see us and we’ll get you hopping, skipping and jumping back to normal in no time.
Ab separation in pregnancy: Diastasis what now?
Are you pregnant, or have recently been pregnant? Are you now internet trawling trying to find out what this abdominal separation thing is everyone keeps telling you about? You’re overwhelmed and busy enough either preparing for, or experiencing, newborn life to worry about ‘how many centimetres is yours?’ And rightly so. But it is important to look after yourself, so you can get your strength back, and avoid issues down the track like bulging belly and back pain. So, here’s a quick run down of what ab separation is and how you can treat it.
What is an abdominal separation?
An abdominal separation, or in medical terms, a ‘Diastasis Recti’ (yes, we prefer the non-medical term too), is a separation of the abdominal muscles. This regularly occurs in women during trimester three of pregnancy and can also affect them post-pregnancy.
Picture your ‘six-pack’ or ‘Rectus Abdominus’ muscles. There they are in all their glory (maybe just in your head, and that’s OK) – pairs of muscles nicely lined up, down the front of your belly region. These strips of muscles are separated by a piece of tough connective tissue called the ‘Linea Alba’. So your body can expand during pregnancy, the Linea Alba widens. This creates a gap between the two strips of rectus muscles. This gap can be felt by lying your own hand flat on the abdomen. If a person can fit two or more finger widths in this gap, that person is said to have an abdominal separation. Please note this is a very rough guide. We always advise to get an experienced health professional’s opinion when testing this.
It’s also not just pregnant women who get this problem… Post-menopausal women, newborn babies and men can also develop abdominal separation.
What causes it?
Contrary to popular views, being pregnant is not the cause of this issue (remember, men & babies can get it too), although it is a contributor. It is caused by excessive increases in intra-abdominal pressure. Yes, having a growing uterus inside you can lead to increases in abdominal pressure, but so can pushing during delivery, straining on the toilet, and obesity. A newborn may develop this issue due to under-developed abdominal muscles, but this will usually resolve itself with time.
What does it mean if I have ab separation?
There is debate over what the side effects of having an ab separation are. Most commonly you may notice a bulge appear in your belly when you try to sit forward, stand up or lie down. Often described as a ‘pouch’. After pregnancy, you may be left with a bulge in the belly region that may give the impression you are still pregnant. Evidence for anything else is limited, but you may experience abdominal pain, postural issues, bloating or constipation. Not so fun! Many people believe having an abdominal separation increases the risk of pelvic or low back pain, but while we see this in our clinic, there isn’t any hard evidence supporting this claim. Having a separation could also impact your core stability, which could lead to other problems like breathing issues or low back pain.
Can it be treated?
The short answer is yes, but it may not have to be. Some minor abdominal separations require very little intervention. A more severe separation may well require the help of a trained physio (ahem, why hello there!) and giving of rehab exercises. It’s not just a simple case of doing a load of sit-ups or crunches to get those abs back. Sorry! Did you know sit-ups and crunches will increase your intra-abdominal pressure? So, these exercises are not a good idea at this stage as they could make things worse… But that’s not to say you won’t get back to them!
Rehab requires working on your pelvic floor and deeper abdominal muscles. We will also address any breathing problems you may have with breathing exercises, as getting your diaphragm muscle and ribs to function correctly is also very important.
It is not always straight forward and not every exercise will be suitable for every person with an ab separation, so we recommend you book an appointment to see us first. We will be able to assess you accurately and get you on the ideal program for you, as well as advise you on all the do’s and do not’s about movement, lifting and general exercise.
Chronic pain: What you need to know
At the end of this month, we celebrate National Pain Week. So, this month we’re going to look at chronic pain – something that 3.24 million Australians live with day in, day out. When you are living with chronic pain, life can be difficult. Getting out of bed in the morning, going to work, parenting… Pretty much everything can become very hard work. Being in pain for a prolonged period can be debilitating and can have huge impact on a person’s life.
In 2018, the total running healthcare costs relating to chronic pain across Australia topped $139 billion! And unfortunately, it is predicted that by 2050, more than 5 million Australians will be living with chronic pain. And, as research tells us, women experience chronic pain more than men. Women are generally more sensitive to pain and report more widespread and higher intensity of pain than that of their male counterparts. It is interesting though that women tend to accept their pain and get on with things, whereas men tend to become more depressed when in pain. So, man flu is a real thing!
As physiotherapists, treating chronic pain is part of our daily working life. Understanding chronic pain is complicated and requires some in-depth training. So, to make things a little easier to understand, we’ve put together this blog to help break it all down and give you a little introduction to what chronic pain is all about.
So, what is pain?
This seems like a good place to start. Pain is something us humans and other animals on the planet are fortunate enough to experience. Fortunate? Bear with us. Pain is so crucial because it is our body’s protection mechanism. Interestingly, sometimes we can even feel pain before we get to the injury stage – it can act as a red flashing warning light! Once injured, pain will hang around for a little while to remind us that we need to protect the injured area from further damage – so that we can heal. It’s probably the most state-of-the-art alarm system you’ve ever come across, and the answer is sitting inside your skull. Yes, you guessed it, you have your brain to thank for all of this :).
So, I hear you ask, ‘why are we so fortunate to feel pain?’ Well, there are a small minority of people on this earth who cannot and have never felt any pain at all. These people may have one of a group of very rare conditions called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIP). Some people might think this is pretty cool, but this is a very serious condition, and many who are born with it have a shortened lifespan because potentially fatal injuries and illnesses can go completely unnoticed. People with CIP wouldn’t know they had just stood on that rusty nail, or that they have just sliced open their arm or leg. Pain is literally a lifesaver.
For ease of understanding, pain tends to be categorised based on time. ‘Acute’ pain is pain that is felt any time from injury up to the six-week mark. ‘Sub-acute’ pain (a sub-category of acute pain) is pain felt anywhere between six weeks and three months. ‘Chronic’ pain is pain that is felt for three months or longer. Let’s have a quick run down …
We feel acute pain when we fall and graze our skin, twist on the netball court and sprain our knee ligaments, or when we slice our finger with a knife when cooking. When this happens, special sensors around the injury site detect that all is not right and send a message along the nerves to the spinal cord and up into the brain. Your brain processes this information at lightening quick speed and then sends a message back to the injury site as a pain signal and you wince or yell out (and possibly curse). As time progresses over the following days and weeks, the injury heals, and the pain disappears. Along the way, your brain forms a memory of the unfortunate event. This makes you more aware and helps you to avoid similar dangerous situations in the future. State of the art indeed!
Remember the definition for chronic pain – pain that is felt for three months or longer. This pain is also sometimes called ‘persistent’ pain, because it is just that – persistent! In many instances of chronic pain, it is pain that is felt beyond the bodies normal tissue healing times. As an example, a mild to moderate knee ligament sprain takes approximately six weeks to heal. Sometimes people who have injured their knee still get pain months after the injury has healed. They have entered the realms of chronic pain. Things become more complex because by this stage there may well be involvement of different bodily systems. And, most importantly, the person’s belief about what pain is has a huge impact on their recovery. There may also be unrelated issues, such as arthritis that is impacting on recovery or hasn’t been previously diagnosed.
The development of chronic pain is a complicated process. In a nutshell, the healing of tissues has already occurred (as discussed above), yet the brain still thinks there’s a threat. This is due to changes in the nerves carrying signals to the spinal cord, and changes in the spinal cord itself. Basically, these nerves become highly sensitised and end up sending misleading information to the brain. The brain perceives this information as still threatening, and the result is ongoing pain. Ultimately your nerves are ‘tricking’ your brain into thinking you’re injured. We would like to point out that it is much more complicated than that, but this gives you the basic idea of what is happening.
It is important to understand that when someone is in pain for long periods of time, they can start to become affected in other ways. Depression and anxiety resulting from chronic pain is very common. A person’s beliefs about pain will begin to affect their behaviour also. For example, a netball player with the knee ligament injury, once playing again, may avoid certain movements due to fear of re-injuring themselves. In psychological terms, this is known as exhibiting fear avoidance behaviours, and can keep the cycle of pain going for longer than necessary.
Treating chronic pain
The longer the cycle of chronic pain persists, the more difficult it becomes to treat. Unfortunately, treatment is not as simple as applying first aid principles. Of course, treating someone’s movement dysfunctions and getting their strength and flexibility levels right are very important, but treating the resultant depression and anxiety, and educating the person on what changes have occurred in their body so they can change their beliefs about what pain is, is just as important, if not more.
Until all contributing factors of a person’s chronic pain cycle are dealt with in some way, it is unlikely the cycle will be broken. Therefore, treating chronic pain rarely comes down to just one profession or practitioner. In most cases, it requires a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment. We as physiotherapists play a crucial role, but a person may also require the services of a psychologist, their GP and possibly other specialists too. Pain medications may be prescribed by your GP to help control pain levels, but the debate on how effective strong pain medications are in the instances of chronic pain is still out.
Your physio is an expert at re-training your body to move properly and get stronger and more flexible. We will use our hands to affect your muscles, joints and skin, as well as prescribe you exercises to get you on the path to optimum movement and health. These will include exercises relating to strength building, flexibility, posture and breathing. We may also give advice on how to improve your sleeping and diet, to make sure your body is getting the correct amounts of rest and nutrition it needs to function. Most importantly though, we will sit you down and educate you on what exactly is going on with your body so that you can begin to understand it yourself and start the process of beating chronic pain. It will be a big team effort, and the results will be totally worth it.
We hope you found this blog a worthwhile read. If you would like to know more about chronic pain or National Pain Week, please visit http://www.nationalpainweek.org.au.