A Pain in the Wrist

Your new bundle of joy could be taking a toll on your joints.


If you're like most new moms, you spend a fair amount of time—OK, a lot of time—picking up and holding your baby. And while this is undoubtedly good for Junior, it may be taking a toll on your body, specifically your wrists. According to Louis W. Catalano III, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Roosevelt Hospital's C.V. Starr Hand Surgery Center in New York, if you've recently given birth and are experiencing wrist pain, particularly when moving your thumbs or lifting your baby, you're most likely suffering from DeQuervain's tendonitis. Here's a look at this common (but uncommon-sounding) condition:

  • WHAT CAUSES IT: While Catalano says several factors likely contribute—including extra weight and fluid retention from pregnancy, plus hormonal fluctuations—it's the constant lifting that is probably the biggest culprit. "The most important factor is the repetitive lifting of a baby with your wrists sagging toward the ground," he says. Catalano explains that two tendons on the side of the wrist are responsible for moving the thumb. If they become swollen—say, from improper lifting—they can stretch over the the wrist bone, causing pain.
  • WHEN IT HAPPENS: While Catalano says the condition can occur at any time, many women start to have symptoms two to three weeks after childbirth.
  • HOW MANY WOMEN ARE AFFECTED: "DeQuervain's tendonitis is very common," Catalano says. "I see women with the condition at least once a month. It is almost exclusive to women who have recently had a baby, although Catalano says he occasionally sees middle-aged women who have it, as well as stay-at-home dads.
  • WHAT YOU CAN DO: The first thing you want to do is make sure you're lifting your baby properly by keeping your wrists straight and not letting them sag. (A wrist brace called a thumb spica splint, available at pharmacies, can help.) Applying ice frequently can reduce swelling and pain; so can anti-inflammatories—though be sure to check with your doctor if you're breastfeeding. But Catalano's preferred treatment is a cortisone injection. "Two injections cure 80 percent of people," he says. If that doesn't work, you may opt for surgery to release the tendons; Catalano says this is very effective at curing the problem.

Above all, don't try to live with the pain. "DeQuervain's tendonitis burts like hell," Catalano says, "and it usually doesn't correct itself." —Carole Anderson Lucia