Mother’s Thumb: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Recovery Time

What is Mother’s Thumb?

Mother’s Thumb is a painful condition characterized by severe pain at the base of the thumb. Repetitive movements of the hands especially the fingers and the thumb is believed to be the primary cause of it. While anyone of any age can get Mother’s Thumb, it is commonly seen in females who just have had delivery of a baby. This is believed to be because of frequent holding of the baby in the hands and also certain hormonal changes that occur after delivery.[1, 2, 3]

Medically Mother’s Thumb is referred to as de Quervain’s tenosynovitis. The pain seen with Mother’s Thumb is caused due to swelling of the tendons at the base of the thumb. Sometimes, the tendon sheath in that area also swells up causing pain. Overuse of the thumb, fingers, and wrist tends to irritate the tendons causing swelling, pain, tenderness, and limited mobility as seen in people with Mother’s Thumb.[1, 2, 3]

What Causes Mother’s Thumb?

The root cause of Mother’s Thumb is not yet known but experts believe it to be caused due to overuse. Hands and wrists are the most used parts of the body. A person almost continuously uses the hands for more than 10-12 hours every day. This results in irritation of the tendons causing pain and swelling.[3]

Some of the activities that are associated with Mother’s Thumb include using tools as part of work, knitting, carrying heavy items, using mobile phones and continuous texting, and typing. Also, holding a baby in certain positions for long periods of time can also cause Mother’s Thumb. Additionally, hormonal changes, injury to the wrist, and autoimmune disorders affecting the joints like rheumatoid arthritis all can cause Mother’s Thumb.[3]

It has been observed that Mother’s Thumb is seen more in females than males and is more common after delivery of a baby. Females in their 30s and 40s are more likely to get Mother’s Thumb than others.[3]

What are the Symptoms of Mother’s Thumb?

As stated, Mother’s Thumb is a painful condition so the primary symptom of this condition is pain. It is basically observed at the base of the thumb or the area of the wrist immediately below the thumb. The pain can be sharp with an immediate or gradual onset. Any movement of the wrist or the thumb will make the pain worse. The pain may sometimes radiate up the thumb to encompass the forearm.[3]

Some people feel a catching or a snapping sensation with any movement of the thumb. There is also noted swelling in the thumb in people with Mother’s Thumb which makes any movement of the wrist and fingers very tough. The area around the affected thumb will be warm to touch with associated erythema. Some people also have fluid filled cyst around the affected thumb. In cases where delivery of a baby is the cause of Mother’s Thumb the onset of symptoms is generally a month after delivery.[3]

How is Mother’s Thumb Treated?

Mother’s Thumb is a treatable condition and can be done through exercises, home remedies, and even medically. Some of the treatments that a person can do at home to relieve the symptoms of Mother’s Thumb include[3]

  • Limiting movements of the affected thumb or wearing a splint[3]
  • Over the counter pain medications and antiinflammatories are also beneficial to calm down the inflammation[3]
  • Avoiding thumb extension[3]
  • Avoid using the affected hand for any activities till the symptoms resolve and use the opposite hand[3]
  • Avoid typing and texting for long periods of time and take frequent breaks to avoid worsening of inflammation[3]
  • Changing holding positions of a baby to give the much needed rest to the affected hand and wrist[3]

In addition to the above, once the pain subsides the following hand exercises are also beneficial for treatment of Mother’s Thumb. These exercises should be done every couple of hours with about 5-10 repetitions. The exercises include[3]

Upward Thumb Stretch: To do this exercise, place the affected hand on the table with the palm facing the floor. Now use the opposite hand to pull the thumb gently away from the hand. Once a stretch is felt bring back the thumb to the starting position. Repeat this at least 5-10 times.[3]

Side Thumb Stretch: Place the affected hand on a table such that the little finger is facing towards the floor and the affected thumb is facing upwards. Use the opposite hand to gently move the thumb away from the fingers until a stretch is felt. Bring back the thumb back to the starting position. Repeat this again about 5-10 times.[3]

Wrist Stretch: Place the affected hand on a table such that the thumb is facing upwards. The wrist should be placed on the edge of the table such that the hand is hanging on the edge of the table with the thumb facing towards the ceiling. Now try and bend the wrist downwards gently till it starts becoming uncomfortable. Return to the starting position and repeat it about 5 times.[3]

Medical Treatments: If the above treatments are not effective then the individual may switch to application of heat and ice over the affected thumb for 15-20 minutes two to three times a day to calm down the pain and inflammation. The person can also go for physical therapy once the pain subsides to make the wrist and the affected area strong.[3]

Sometimes, in extremely severe cases a corticosteroid injection may have to be given for symptom relief. Surgery is the last resort when all forms of conservative treatments are not effective in treating Mother’s Thumb. The procedure involves creating space for the inflamed tendons and tendon sheath to relieve the symptoms.[3]

What Is The Recovery Time For Mother’s Thumb?

Recovery time for an individual differs from person to person. It may take about three weeks of splint use and restricted activity for the pain to subside in a person with Mother’s Thumb before starting exercises. For people who undergo surgery for Mother’s Thumb may have to wear a splint for at least a month after procedure. Overall it may take more than 6-8 weeks for the person to completely recover from the symptoms of Mother’s Thumb postsurgery.[3]

In conclusion, Mother’s Thumb is quite a common condition where a person experiences severe pain at the base of the thumb. This condition is seen mostly in middle aged females, especially after delivery of a baby. The primary cause of it is believed to be overuse like typing, texting, using tools, or carrying a baby for long periods of time. All these activities tend to irritate the tendons and the tendon sheath the base of the thumb causing pain, swelling, and inflammation such as that seen with Mother’s Thumb.[1, 2, 3]

Giving ample rest to the affected region, hand exercises, heat and ice application are some of the ways that provide symptom relief. If all of these are not effective then surgery may have to be done which will completely eradicate any symptoms of Mother’s Thumb.[1, 2, 3]

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