This is the first post I've written using more than my thumbs. I should probably stop writing that way, actually, as it's contributing to the aggravation of the tendon in my left wrist, which is currently encased in an ice pack.
I first started having wrist pain right after my son was born - I just thought I'd sprained it, or maybe hit it on something. I was exhausted, so that was certainly a logical explanation. Within a couple months, however, the pain was so severe, I was afraid I was going to drop the poor little Munchkin. I had no strength in my left hand at all, and a bulge was beginning to form at the thumb side where my wrist bends. I sort of sheepishly mentioned this to my doctor, thinking I was imagining things, and she said, "Oh - looks like you've got New Mom Thumb."
The technical name for this condition is DeQuervain's Tenosynovitis - but it earns its nickname because nearly half of all new moms end up suffering from it, particularly older first-time moms (raises hand). A friend of mine just got her cortisone shot yesterday. I've seen women at the airport in wrist braces, struck up conversations with mothers at playgroups, or around the changing tables in restrooms - all of whom think they've sprained their wrists. When I tell them about DeQuervain's, they have no idea - it's not something you're told in New Mom Class. I'd never heard of this before it happened to me, but when I posted about it on FB, all my mom-friends came out of the woodwork, saying, "Yeah, I had that - it was awful!"
From what I can tell, holding your thumb away from your other fingers, and supporting weight repetitively (as when lifting your child under the arms, or cradling a baby's head to nurse), particularly in your non-dominant hand, irritates the sheath the tendons connecting your thumb pass through. Do this enough times, and that sheath becomes agonizingly inflamed, swelling around and squeezing said tendons until their movement is restricted. It's not fun.
It was a full five months before the pain was bad enough that I went to an orthopedist. She took one look at my swollen wrist, said, "Yep, you've got classic Mommy Thumb," gave me a cortisone shot and a brace, and sent me on my way. I was worried about the brace - how was I going to pick up my child? Would the velcro scratch him, or would I whack him with it? The assistant who fitted me told me, "Just wear it when you're not holding the baby." (As a SAHM, when would *that* be, exactly?) She also told me she'd been a sufferer, too, but now her child was 10, and the pain had NEVER GONE AWAY.
The cortisone shot helped almost immediately. In my mind, I felt better overnight, but maybe the memory is skewed - six weeks later, however, when I went back for a check-up, I was good as new. But here's the catch: I was still doing all the activities that put me in her office in the first place. And I didn't wear my brace anymore, or continue to ice my thumb. I.e., I wasn't cured, I was being stupid.
Now, four months after the shot, my wrist looks alien - it's starting to hurt really badly again, but this time, I can see the tendons and the swollen synovial sheath from the outside (ew). When I place my wrists side-by-side, it's clear that something is wrong - plus, the skin where I got my cortisone shot is red and splotchy, which makes it look even worse. When I ice the area, my whole hand goes numb. As Munchkin gets heavier, I'm starting to notice symptoms in my right wrist, too. I'm not looking forward to going back to the specialist.
All of this is to say, if you're a new mom, and you have a "sprained wrist" feeling, ice it and immobilize it right away. You're not imagining things, and you're not alone. Get help sooner rather than later. If you're expecting, start strengthening your wrists now. Google "de quervain's exercises" for some suggestions. And, if you're given a brace by the doctor (I'm looking at you, Munchkin's mom), USE THE DARN THING.