Thursday, June 28, 2012

Unsolicited Advice: Ladies, Flex Those Wrists and Stretch Those Fingers!

The culprit (see the V-hold?)
About a week after Baba G was home from the hospital, I started waking up unable to move my arms, wrists, hands, or fingers. At all. I mean, they would eventually warm up, but when I initially gained consciousness each day, it was like I was paralyzed.

I assumed this was some weird side-effect of having a C-section. Because of my The Less You Know™ approach toward labor, I hadn't read anything about what happens after you have to have a C-section (much less go through old-fashioned labor), so since the lower half of my body had blown up to resemble a character from The Nutty Professor or The Klumps and my docs said THAT was normal, I figured all the upper-body pain might be just the way it was after a C-section as well.

But I was wrong, because after two weeks, all of my Klumps-like swelling disappeared, but the pain in my wrists and fingers got worse and worse. When the day came that I nearly collapsed in agony after BG kicked my wrist while I was changing him—and then a few hours later I screamed and broke down sobbing after barely hitting my wrist against the washing machine—I knew something was drastically wrong.

I told one of my friends who has three kids about this, and she said, "Well it's probably from supporting BG's head and carrying him and all that."


Unfortunately, by that point in time my situation couldn't be remedied without outside assistance. Baba was only seven weeks old, but I could barely lift him, that's how bad my wrists hurt and how weak my hands had become. I couldn't use the can opener on my dog's food. I couldn't screw off the top of the OJ carton. I couldn't reach for anything. It was ridiculous.

I went to my doctor and she knew what it was right away: "Mother's Thumb," or De Quervain's tendonitis. She said that really the only thing that was going to help me was going to physical therapy. A cortisone shot, which sometimes helps those with Carpal Tunnel syndrome (which is very different from De Quervain's), wouldn't really be the way to go for this situation. But she did prescribe these NSAID patches for me to stick onto my left wrist (which was worse than my right... probably because I'm not only left-handed, but I'd also broken that wrist in the past) overnight to help manage the pain.

After a few months of going to physical therapy three times a week, I was then advised to go to occupational therapy (hand and wrist specialists) so that they could make me a customized splint, which is the white thing below on the left. The other one is what I wear to bed on my right wrist and I just got it from Walgreens. The purpose of these lovely accessories is to force your wrist and thumb joints to rest—to stop them from moving. I knew that I was curling my wrists up while I was sleeping and just making the situation worse, so the splints were a must at night.

Yeah, I'm fancy.

I was told to wear the custom splint as much as I could—meaning as close to 24/7 as possible—for SIX WEEKS. As you may know, I write for a living, so can you even imagine typing with that white thing on? It cuts off halfway up my thumb. So I rebelled and didn't wear the splint except for overnight. And I made hardly any progress.

Now, for the past month, I've been behaving. I wear the splint all the time (I've gotten used to typing with it on) except for when I'm carrying BG... because I DID wear it when I carried him and it actually cracked a bit in the thumb area. What can I say, the kid's a fatty. But as you can see from this picture of us below (from two months ago—he's even bigger now), the "V-hold" would be impossible to do with the splint on. The V-hold is also what got me into trouble in the first place, though.

Try not to be jealous of my ratty, inside-out wrist bands, please. Or my beauty. Or hairstyle.

So what can YOU do, or tell your pregnant wife/friend/relative to do, to avoid my fate? Start exercising your wrists, thumbs and fingers so that they don't suffer the shock of a new repetitive motion and/or can handle the weight of a baby's head while feeding once your little guy/gal arrives. Here are a bunch of sample exercises (I've done all of these in PT, here's the illustrated graphic) that will help. Your wrists and hands will get stronger and more limber and then the tendons will have less of a chance of becoming inflamed once you start carrying a baby around everywhere. And when the baby does come, remember to avoid the V-hold as much as you can. Having one arm/hand around his middle and back and one under his butt is better instead of the V-hold under both of his armpits.

I was feeling REALLY down about myself because of all of this. I thought I was in good shape before and during my pregnancy, but this De Quervain's crap really threw me for a loop and made me feel like a loser. Baba G is now five months old and I'm FINALLY starting to feel like things are getting better. I wear the splint as much as possible, take care to not make the V-hold/pinching motion that aggravates the problem, do exercises whenever I have the splint off, and am down to only one PT session per week.

Don't be like me! Head this problem off, ladies, because apparently up to 50% of new moms get it. I wish someone had told me about this BEFORE Baba G made his debut, so that's why I'm writing about it today. Since I'm sure I've scared the living hell out of any pregnant woman who's reading this, I'll save my stories of woe about the tendonitis in my FEET for another day...

Yes, I'm falling apart.

I guess he's worth the pain!
"Life IS Pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

If you'd like to read more about what De Quervain's is and how to head it off or treat it, here's a Wall Street Journal article about it, as well as another good article I found (yes, it's pimping for some gel/cream but that stuff was actually recommended to me too, and my PT place uses it, so it's legit).

Has anyone else out there suffered through De Quervain's? Make an old, decrepit lady feel better, won't you?


  1. Hi! I was a huuuuge fan of your lost blog and now I am loving your baby blog. I too had a baby--almost 20 weeks old. I'm a big fan of the dr browns bottle too after having tried many (Medela, nuk, avent...). Awesome.

    Anyway, really enjoying your posts!

  2. Thanks mama: printing these out now. If it makes you feel better, I am currently SLEEPING with wrist splints on because my morning carpal tunnel was getting so gnarly. I will practice these and advise that Steve check them out as well (but I bet he won't.)

  3. I actually got this from lifting dogs and cats when I was working! Had to wear a lovely brace like that for a good long time. And we did handwritten records at the time! Not fun! Glad it's feeling better for you.

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