Doctors see increase in 'mommy thumb' cases




Posted on December 20, 2010 at 11:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 21 at 3:26 PM

DALLAS - Like most 3 year olds, little Olivia loves to play and be picked up by her mommy. However, that recently became hard to do because of pain in her mother's hand.

"It wasn't swollen," recalled Jeanine Andersen. "It wasn't bruised; it just had an ache. I had a sore ache in my left wrist and my thumb."

When anti-inflammatory medicine failed to ease the ache, Andersen went to a physical therapist and was diagnosed with De Quervain syndrome, an inflammation of the tendons from the thumb to the wrist. It has become known as "mommy thumb."

"It's caused by repetive movement and certain positions, especially with moms of younger children when they go to reach for their children with the "L" shape of their thumb and their finger," said Amy Kitchens, a certified hand therapist.

Kitchens, a hand therapist at Texas Health Fort Worth, is seeing a surge in cases these days.

Experts blame heavier babies and cribs lower to the ground, which puts extra stress on tendons. A recent study showed mothers over 40 have triple the incidence of mommy thumb.

"As we get older, our tendons, our soft tissue starts to break down a little bit more," Kitchens said. "And we don't practice good body mechanics and so it causes the inflammation of those tendons."

Smart phones, which require a lot of extra thumb action, don't help.

In most cases, mommy thumb isn't serious. But, in extreme cases, patients might need steriod injections or even surgery to clear out scar tissue.

Andersen had to wear a specially casted splint to hold her wrist and thumb immobile. She also had to learn the right way to pick up Olivia, who now weighs an adorable but heavy 35 pounds.

"You want to reach underneath and use the forearms, kind of give a gentle squeeze and kind of cradle the bottom," Kitchen said of the way mothers can pick up their children.

The technique and bracing has helped ease the pain for Andersen. Now, little Olivia holds mommy's hand more these days instead of being picked up.