Mother's Thumb  a.k.a De Quervain's tenosynovitis
 Dr. Manasi Anand

Dr. Manasi Anand

Mar 06General wellness

Mother's Thumb a.k.a De Quervain's tenosynovitis

This blog is compiled by Athira Krishnan, a content writer for Proactive For Her.

What is Mother’s Thumb?

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, also known as Mother’s thumb 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 minor discomfort to severe pain on the thumb side of the wrist. The pain can sometimes radiate to the wrist and forearms.

How do you know if you have Mother’s Thumb?

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned below, you may have mother’s thumb :

  • A sharp/dull pain at the base of the thumb/ the thumb-side of the wrist
  • Swelling and tenderness in the thumb
  • Increased pain while holding/pinching/grasping

What causes Mother’s Thumb?

The main cause for this condition is repetitive stress and strain that may happen due to several factors :

  • Injuries due to golfing, badminton, tennis and other sports that applies pressure on your thumb
  • Hobbies/professions like gardening, painting, typing, pianist, carpenter, etc
  • Constant lifting and holding the newborn baby. This is seen in new mothers and stay-at-home fathers
  • A chronic joint condition like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis means that your thumb and wrist tendons might be weaker and more easily injured. This can increase your risk of developing Mother’s thumb

How does the doctor find out if I have this condition?

Typically, to test if a patient is suffering from mother’s thumb, the doctor will perform the ‘Finkelstein’s maneuver’ test. The patient is asked to hold a fist with the thumb tucked into the fist tightly and move the fist up and down while keeping the wrist stationary. If the patient experiences a sharp, shooting pain, then he/she likely has mother’s thumb

What are the complications if it is left untreated?

If not given early attention, this condition may require surgical intervention. If picked up early, it can be resolved with physical therapy.

In cases where this is left untreated, surgery may be required for tendon release to reduce the pressure on the tendons. A small incision is made in the sheath that surrounds the swollen tendons to release the pressure.

Recovering from this surgery will take some time as the recovery period can be painful and a strict regimen of physiotherapy and proper rehabilitation is required to restore the thumb/wrist to it’s previous functioning.

How is mother’s thumb treated by simple physical therapy?

Activity modification :

  1. Limit and avoid activities that may directly worsen thumb and wrist discomfort.
  2. When lifting your new born baby, instead of picking them up under the arms, try to scoop the baby up by lifting under their bottom with one hand and the other under the neck and upper back. This redistributes pressure evenly across your palm as opposed to lifting your baby up under the arms, a position that puts most of the strain on the thumb and the wrist. Also, try switching positions while holding the baby.
  3. Bring the child close to your chest while holding the baby and use your forearms to support the it’s weight.

Wrist brace/splint : There is a specific splint called the de-quervain’s splint that is specifically designed for this condition, that reduces pressures on your thumb and wrist. These are specially molded to protect your thumb and wrist and limit it’s movements

Icing : In cases where an inflammation is noticed, apply an ice pack to the area to reduce the swelling and for pain relief.

Elevation : When resting your wrist on a hard surface, keep it elevated by placing a small pillow/cushion under your wrist.

Certain exercises are recommended as part of the treatment that will help increase mobility and decrease pain and swelling. These extremely effective exercises can be performed by yourself, at home. Start with 6-8 repetitions and slowly work your way up to 10 repetitions a day.

Opposition stretch - Place your affected hand, palms up on a table and touch the tips of your thumb to the tips of your pinky finger.

Wrist flexor strengthening - Hold a water bottle that fits in your palm comfortably. It shouldn't be too big or too small. While keeping your wrist still, move your fist towards you and away from you.You can start with a bottle and slowly move your way up towards dumbbells and resistance bands.

Wrist extensors strengthening - Hold a water bottle in your hand horizontally and rest your hand, wrist downwards on a surface, similar to the position you would assume when you’re typing on a desktop/a laptop. Slowly move your fist up and down while keeping the wrist steady.

Wrist radial deviation strengthening - Similar to the previous exercise, now hold your bottle upright, with your forearm resting on its side. Move your fist towards you and then, away from you.

Finger spring/thumb strengthening - With your palm facing the ceiling, bring all your finger-tips together and wrap a rubber band around them. Now move your thumb towards you and then towards the rest of your fingers.

Once you are comfortable with this exercise, you can try a slightly more difficult, modified version of this. Place your palm on a wall and wrap a rubber band around only your index finger and your thumb. While keeping the rest of your fingers firmly placed on the wall and stationary, move your thumb away from your index finger and then back to its original position.

Grip strengthening - Use a foam/soft ball for this exercise. Hold it in your palm, squeeze, hold in that position for 5 seconds and then release.

In conclusion

Mother’s thumb is a common condition in most new mothers, caregivers and stay at home fathers. It is something that can easily be prevented by small modifications while handling your baby and taking care of not adding undue pressure on your wrist. To prevent complications, consult your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms as this can ensure a faster diagnosis and recovery.


This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare practitioners before undertaking any changes in your diet or adding supplements.

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