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!
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.
Back pain in new mums
Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so we wanted to dedicate this blog to all the mum’s out there. Being a mum is a tough job for anyone. Juggling work, keeping a home, family and friends, and of course caring for your little ones, can be draining both emotionally and physically. This is especially the case if you are a new mum, when life with your new addition is in its settling in period. Your body has been through a major change over the last 10 months, and it’s still changing now. Having a baby is a big deal, and you now have a recovery period ahead of you. But of course, you have a child to care for constantly, so there’s no time to worry about yourself, right? Wrong… it’s a difficult balance for sure, but looking after yourself means you’ll be able to look after your new recruit to the very best of your abilities.
My back STILL hurts 🙁
Pain is a common symptom experienced by new mums, with approximately 10% of women still experiencing pain two months post-delivery. Imagine being in pain all that time AND having a baby to look after – it doesn’t sound fun does it? Now, whether you’ve been through a natural birth or c-section, your body is vulnerable and weaker than pre-pregnant you, so it’s important to look after yourself to ensure you recover quickly and nip that pain in the bud!
The back is one of the most common areas of the body affected during and after pregnancy. Other areas include the pelvis and the wrists. The main reasons your back will complain in those early days boils down to the fact your posture won’t have a clue what has just hit it. Firstly, during pregnancy, ligaments become lax, muscles stretch or separate, which can produce imbalances or weakness. Even your breathing might change, depending on where bub is sitting in your uterus. Then of course your body is frantically trying to realign your centre of gravity to deal with your growing bump. Your body is working like crazy simply to keep you upright!
Then baby comes along. Of course, there’s the trauma you may experience with a vaginal or cesarean birth. Then, straight away, you will be feeding, changing, bathing and dressing/un-dressing your bubba multiple times a day. All these activities require you to have your baby lying down in front of you, with you bent over them, keeping them fed, warm, and happy. This continuous motion, combined with broken sleep, tiredness, and a recovering body, can lead you to over-work those back muscles. It’s also important to remember that your core muscles will have taken a big hit during pregnancy, so you won’t be as stable in the trunk as you were pre-pregnancy. Eventually your body will let you know things are not right by sending a few signals to the brain – hello pain!
What can I do to help?
Now you know why you may experience back pain, we want to let you know some of the things you can do from the very first day you bring your newborn home, to care for your back (and the rest of you of course), and reduce the risk of injury and pain. That way, you can dedicate 95% of your time to looking after your son or daughter. “Only 95%” we hear you ask – don’t worry, we’ll get to that!
To reduce the impact of feeding on your back, consider the following tips:
- Get a comfortable and supportive feeding chair: Avoid chairs that allow you to sink into them, such as a low arm chair or sofa. You will struggle to get yourself up from a slouched position, whilst holding your baby, without risking strain on your back and shoulders.
- Move regularly: Enjoy the one on one time, it’s magical! But, when you sit for long periods, your back and neck muscles will eventually feel it. Try some light neck stretches, and gentle spinal movements like rotating side to side and extending to open out the chest.
- Try a feeding pillow: As your baby grows, they will get heavier and heavier. A feeding pillow will take the weight of your baby so your arms, shoulders and back don’t have to bear the brunt of it all.
- Get your partner involved: If you’re a bottle feeder, then spread the load and ask your partner (or another family member) to feed when possible to give you a break. If you are breast feeding, they can still help by taking the baby from you when you have finished so you can get yourself up off your chair, minus the weight of your baby.
Oh so many nappies! “I didn’t sign up for this!” Ahem, sorry, yes you did! Just embrace the poo… It gets easier ;). The following tips also apply for dressing your baby:
- Get a change table: Whether it’s a nappy change or outfit change, do it at a height where you can stand comfortably and not be bent over for long periods.
- Following on from the above point… Avoid changing your baby on the floor. It’s not only your back that might complain, but your neck, shoulders and knees also!
There is no easy solution to this one. Most baths are low to the ground and require you to kneel and lean right over to get to where you need to be. However, we have found that baby baths can be useful as they are small, mobile, and can be placed at a height that suits your back better. Some change tables even double up as baby baths. Obviously be careful about carrying a heavy bath of water though – as long as it’s safe, try to bath your baby near a sink where you don’t have to carry the bath to fill and empty it.
So, you mentioned 95%?
You’re right, we did! And this is very important. Your baby is going to need lots of attention. But you also need attention. So, the remaining 5% is just for you. The following tips are aimed to address other areas of your life that often get neglected when being a new mum:
- Sleep when the opportunity arises: Whether this is when your baby is sleeping, or when your partner or family member are looking after your baby, getting sleep is very important. You need time to restore energy levels and allow the body to repair and recover. Who cares if the housework gets left for an extra day or two – it will still be there when you are ready to do it. Better still, get a family member to help. Team work!
- Eat well, stay hydrated: Don’t forget about the importance of a good diet. Eat lots of fresh, nutrient rich food, such as fruits and vegetables. And keep a bottle of water on the go constantly. It’s easy to forget and become dehydrated. If you are breast-feeding, remember where the water in the breast milk comes from… YOU!
- Have a bath: Of course, this doesn’t have to end at bathing. Read a book, do a crossword, go and sit in the garden with a cuppa… Our point is, make time for yourself regularly. These little breaks will keep you sane during a chaotic time of life. If help is at hand, use it. It is OK to have a break from it all. We cannot stress this point enough.
These last points can also help in the fight against back pain. Sleeping, eating and relaxation will help to reduce the risk of fatigue. Fatigue will compromise your ability to hold your posture in standing, sitting, and other positions such as bending. So, you can see why the 5% is so important.
At some point, you will need to address the physical changes that have occurred as a result of pregnancy and giving birth. These may include abdominal and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, as well as spinal and other joint restrictions and dysfunctions. Every woman that has given birth needs to rehabilitate and strengthen their core again. Unfortunately, many don’t get around to it or it isn’t high on their priority list. However, (see points above) it needs to be! And of course, if you’re reading this and are pregnant, or thinking about having a child, there is so much you can do pre-birth to aid your recovery after having your baby, so come and see us!
If you’re a new mum or have had a child in the last few years, we can’t recommend enough to come and see one of our women’s health focused physios. We’ll assess you, and advise you on the best course of treatment and exercise to get you ‘back’ (excuse the pun) fighting fit and who knows… Another baby anyone?!