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Thumb and wrist pain

What causes thumb pain after the birth of my baby?

Thumb and wrist pain, also known as Dequervain’s Tenosynovitis, is common in the postnatal period.  The demands of caring for your baby can result in a sudden increase in load on the thumb and wrist which can cause pain, swelling and weakness.  These symptoms are most often noticed at the base of the thumb and this area can be sore to touch.

When will the problem go away?

The condition is likely to improve on its own with time, however due to the high demands caring for your baby places on the thumb and wrist, you may benefit from some support strategies.

How do I manage my symptoms?

Conservative management for up to three months is recommended for thumb and wrist pain in the postnatal period.  Those with symptoms persisting beyond this should consult with their doctor or physiotherapist.

Thumb splints:

Wearing thumb splints (available from the chemist or your physiotherapist) can help relieve pain and keep your thumb/wrist from bending forwards.

  • Try wearing splints as much as possible, including overnight, for best results.

Modify your activities

Changing the way in which you perform day to day tasks, to reduce the load on the thumb, can improve and assist in the management of symptoms.  Try keeping a relaxed and neutral thumb/wrist when performing daily tasks.

  • Keep your wrist from bending or ‘flopping’ forward when doing everyday tasks.  Wearing a thumb splint can help with this.
  • Minimise tasks that involve a pinch grip, as this may cause discomfort.
  • Modify heavy lifting or activities that make the symptoms worse e.g. repetitive tasks such as writing, typing, using a mouse, carrying grocery bags and household chores.
  • Ask for help with food preparation or tasks that provoke symptoms.
  • Minimise using your thumb for daily activities such as scrolling on your phone, use your fingertip instead.

Caring for your baby:

  • Continue wearing splints if you have/need them.
  • Always aim to use a relaxed and neutral grip.
  • Avoid straining your arms and wrists during breast feeding by placing a pillow under your baby and support your baby’s head with your forearm.
  • Try assistive devices such as a breastfeeding pillow to support you further.
  • Speak with your midwife, child health nurse or lactation consultant about alternative feeding positions if necessary (eg sidelying).
  • Try carrying and picking up your baby in different ways to avoid strain, regularly alternating your baby handling strategies can reduce the load on the wrist and thumb.
  • Use a pram or baby carrier where possible.
  • Try using a bath seat when bathing baby to minimise strain on your thumb/wrist.
  • Use your fingertips to close buttons/nappy tags to minimise the pinch grip.

Cold therapy:

The use of a cold pack or ice pack can be used for pain relief.  Try placing a cold pack or ice pack over the base of the thumb for 10-15 minutes as required.  Ensure that you place a barrier between ice and the skin.

Pain relief medication: 

As some pain medications may not be safe to take during pregnancy, always consult your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking medication for your pain. 

When should I seek help?

If symptoms persist, or you are having difficulty managing your day to day activities, please contact your health care provider for assistance.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430140
Last modified 17/7/2020.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 31/1/2020
For further translated health information, you can visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au/ supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that offers a range of patient information in multiple languages.
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