Mommy Thumb - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Mommy Thumb

BALTIMORE (WFLX) - Government records show about 4 million babies are born in the U.S. each year. More than 10 percent of those new moms are first-time moms over age 35. 

If you are one of them, take note. That new pain in your arms is more common than you think.

Little Jayden James in on the ground and in the air. He's an 8-month-old on the move. "Going out anywhere, he's very social, so he loves to be around people," said Kim Brenninkmeyer, Jayden's mom.

The fact that Brenninkmeyer can keep up is amazing. When Jayden was born, she found the area from her wrist to thumb was in constant pain.

"Any time where I had to kind of stretch was very painful," Brenninkmeyer said. "It just felt like it was tearing, ripping, burning."

"She asked very frankly, 'Is this going to happen every time I have a child? I don't know if I can go through this,'" recounted Dr. David N. Maine, director of the Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center.

Maine knew the cause: "Mommy Thumb." It's a new term for an over-use injury. The true name: De quervain's tenosynovitis. It comes with the constant scooping, holding and lifting of newborns that new moms aren't used to.

"I've talked to friends who've had babies, and they've said, 'Oh, I had that, too,' and no one knew what it was," Brenninkmeyer said.

Experts say one-quarter to one-half of new mothers now get symptoms. Causes include heavier children as more than 10 percent of 2-year-olds are now overweight. Plus, more older mothers are having kids, and more moms are using thumb-numbing smart-phones.

"All that can create this overuse of these tendons along the base of the thumb and create tendinitis essentially," Maine said.

A new mom at 40, Brenninkmeyer got cortisone shots, which are 90 percent effective. Now, she can keep up with Jayden with no problems.

"So, at about two weeks, I was pain-free, which was just such a relief," Brenninkmeyer said.

If cortisone shots don't work, surgery is an option. De quervain's issues may also start to present themselves in the third trimester of pregnancy.

BACKGROUND: Mommy Thumb, or De Quervain's syndrome, is a growing complaint among new mothers. Mommy Thumb is a repetitive strain injury, much like carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow. Doctors say, though the problem has been around for as long as women have been having children, heavier children, older mothers, lower cribs and increased smart phone usage have increased the number of cases in recent years. On the topic of heavier children, it should be noted that 10 percent of 2-year-old children in the United States are now considered obese.

STATISTICS: Orthopedic surgeons estimate between one quarter and one half of new mothers experience Mommy Thumb; however, Mommy Thumb doesn't affect only women. Men can get it, too, although a study from the University of Colorado found that Mommy Thumb affects women four times as often as it affects men. The same study found that people over 40 were three times more likely to get Mommy Thumb than younger people. Since over ten percent of the first-time mothers in the US every year are over 35, and children are getting heavier, it's no surprise cases of Mommy Thumb are on the rise.

SYMPTOMS: The main symptom of Mommy Thumb is a sharp pain on the inside of the wrist caused by inflammation of the tendons along the thumb and wrist, specifically, the long thumb abductor (or abductor pollicis longus) and the short thumb extensor (extensor pollicis brevis). Some women begin experiencing pain during pregnancy; doctors think this is because swelling adds pressure to the already stressed tendons. Once the child is born, pain is often experienced when a mother picks up her child by the armpits, which puts most of the child's weight on the thumbs. It should also be noted that this type of picking up and stretching are part of a range of new motions that new mothers (especially older ones) simply aren't used to performing. Experts say while symptoms may start in the last trimester of pregnancy, exact causes for flare-ups in that specific time period are unknown (The Cleveland Clinic).

TREATMENT: Mommy Thumb can usually be treated with ice and pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs. Wearing a splint can also help, as it keeps the thumb in a fixed position. If those methods prove ineffective, doctors often recommend steroid injections, such as cortisone shots, or surgery. 

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