Understanding Postpartum Wrist Pain: Causes and Solutions

Woman holding wrist in pain.jpg

Having a baby is a joyful time, but many women experience wrist and thumb pain postpartum. This can make caring for a newborn more challenging if it is difficult to keep up with newborn care. Don’t worry! There are ways to treat this common ailment. 

New mothers can develop wrist and thumb pain after pregnacy. This pain is thought to be brought on through swelling and hormonal changes such as ligament laxity, or loose ligaments, which are a natural occurrence with pregnancy and delivery. This phenomenon is called DeQuervain’s tendinopathy, a tendon overuse and inflammatory condition involving the tendons that run along the thumb side of the back of the wrist and thumb. 

DeQuervain’s tendinopathy can be brought on by overuse or it may develop for no apparent reason. The tendons involved with this condition, help to move the thumb out and away from the palm. 

What are the symptoms of DeQuervain’s Tendinopathy?

 New moms may experience: 

  • Pain along the thumb side of the wrist and at times extending into the back of the thumb and forearm. 
  • Pain with use of wrist and thumb when pinching, pulling, twisting or reaching the thumb across the palm toward the pinky finger. 

How is DeQuervain’s Tendinopathy Treated? 

A physician can provide a referral to a qualified occupational therapist who specializes in hand therapy. Every patient is different and your occupational therapist will help determine the right course of action for you. Treatments range from conservative options to surgical solutions. Conservative treatment may include anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections. Surgical intervention might be recommended for severe symptoms lasting six months or longer. Surgery is typically the last line of intervention as most conservative treatment results in relief of symptoms. 

What can a hand therapist do for me? 

A hand therapist can provide conservative treatment as well as post-surgical therapy interventions for DeQuervain’s tendinopathy. 

Nonsurgical Treatments 

The therapist may develop a custom brace or splint for the wrist and thumb for the purpose of providing rest to the area. In addition, the therapist may prescribe exercises to help the tendons involved move more freely or manual therapy in the form of gentle joint mobilizations and friction massage to quiet the pain and allow the wrist and thumb to move more freely. Use techniques such as fluidotherapy (heat), ultrasound, Iontophoresis (gentle electrical stimulation) may also be used for pain management. Finally, your OT may make suggestions on how to modify your activities to reduce pain. 

Surgical Treatments 

Following surgery, hand therapy is important to restore range of motion and strength to allow return to normal pain free function.