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A month after Stephanie Kanowitz delivered her baby girl, the Fairfax, Virginia, mom noticed a pain in her left wrist. She brushed it off until it became so severe she could no longer pick up her daughter. "The first sign that something was really wrong came when I would put Ellie down or pick her up and I felt a sharp pain and snap in my left wrist, between my thumb and forearm," Kanowitz says. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with de Quervain's tenosynovitis, or, as it's commonly called, mommy thumb.
De Quervain's is a condition in which the tendons from the thumb to the wrist become inflamed and rub against the "tunnel" that encloses them, causing sensations from mild discomfort to severe pain on the thumb side of the wrist.
Early one morning, Jennifer Chakir picked up her 1-year-old daughter and felt intense pain in her wrist area. "The pain didn't last long and I realized it was only when I had my hand or wrist in a certain position," says the Pasadena, California, mom. An appointment with an orthopedic specialist confirmed her diagnosis: de Quervain's.
Though anyone can develop de Quervain's, it's most common in new mothers and usually stems from stress on the wrist resulting from lifting a baby frequently. A 2009 study from the University of Colorado found that women are four times more likely to develop de Quervain's than men. Michelle G. Carlson, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper extremities at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, estimates that the ratio is even higher. "I'd say it's about 90 percent new moms," she says.
Prevention is difficult because, of course, mothers need to lift their children -- sometimes 25 to 30 times per day. And according to David M. Auerbach, M.D., a hand surgeon at the Southern California Orthopedic Institute, "There's no way to tell if you will get it until you have it." Unfortunately, mommy thumb rarely goes away on its own, but doctors agree early recognition and early treatment are key.
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