Postpartum Wrist Pain
Jan 12, 2022
Here is a little talked about fact: postpartum wrist pain is quite common! Officially named De Quervain's Tenosynovitis, this wrist pain occurs at the base of the thumb and is often aggravated postpartum by the frequent and possibly strenuous motions of lifting your newborn (while also supporting their head). Dr. Alicia talks with Krysta Norwick, registered physiotherapist and owner of Cairn Physiotherapy, about symptoms, who is at risk, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment!
De Quervain's Tenosynovitis is a form of repetitive strain injury occurring at the base of the thumb and thumb side of the wrist. You may feel a pain, irritation, or even a bit of swelling around your thumb, wrist and even forearm. It often occurs postpartum as we frequently pinch back our thumbs to pick up baby. You may not notice it with two or three repetitions, but after weeks or sometimes months you can really start to notice that irritation happen!
Who is at Risk?
There are a few higher risk factors we’ll list below, but as it pertains to postpartum, any caretaker of the newborn that frequently lifts and carries the baby is at risk. Others include:
- Anyone using their hands and wrists in a repetitive way
- Anyone prone to or with previous wrist injuries
- Having arthritis in the region
- Hormonal changes, often common in women ages 30-50
- Hormonal shifts in pregnancy and postpartum, often causing swelling. Irritation of the nerves flowing through the wrists tends to be greater as they are a more confined space than other parts of the body (ie. the legs)
If you feel you are at risk for De Quervain's Tenosynovitis, you can take a few approaches toward prevention:
- Education: listening to this podcast and being aware of the signs & symptoms to look out for!
- Movement Mechanics: seeing a physiotherapist during your pregnancy is a great idea to prepare yourself and learn more about how labour and postpartum affect your entire body! A physiotherapist can also assess your body mechanics, examining how you move and lift your baby, and suggest better techniques and tips to reduce strain.
- Preemptively Strengthen: if you're someone who's noticed your wrists tend to get irritated with something like yoga, then you may want to consider strengthening before the postpartum period through exercise.
Talk to a care provider. You can go directly to a physiotherapist where they have assessment techniques to figure out which tissue and area in your body is giving you symptoms - or a primary care provider can help diagnose the issue as well. Dr. Alicia shares with us a test she performs with her patients on today’s podcast!
As we mentioned already, one form of treatment or potential prevention is consulting a physiotherapist to assess your movement mechanics, but if you are already experiencing pain:
- Physiotherapy: learning how you can make adjustments to the way you lift and hold a baby to reduce strain.
- Massage: you can have a physiotherapist apply massage techniques, or learn how to do them on yourself. Watch Cairn Physiotherapy’s IG video about Wrist Pain Massage!
- Ice/Rest/Anti Inflammatory: remember this should not be taken during pregnancy, but if postpartum, an anti-inflammatory or ice can help reduce the swelling and pain.
- Immobilization: generally with physiotherapy, the goal is to solve the issue through exercise as much as possible. However, if you’ve done the exercises and education, and the symptoms aren't getting better, then a splint or brace is something that could be considered. Not to be worn all the time so as not to weaken the muscles in the area, it can be really helpful in preventing unwanted movement causing repetitive strain.
- Steroid Injection: if you’ve done your physio and tried wearing a brace and the pain continues to be unmanageable, a steroid injection can help you reach a managable baseline of pain and decrease inflammation. It carries the risk of weakening the tissues and tendons in the area, but can help things settle down so rehab/exercise can be resumed
- Surgery: considered a last resort and extremely rare in the case of De Quervain's Tenosynovitis, surgery is an option.
We hope that you find today’s blog/podcast helpful! If you feel you are experiencing symptoms, check out the fully remote, online Cairn Physiotherapy from the comfort of your own home, wherever you are!
Watch Cairn Physiotherapy’s IG video about Wrist Pain Massage!