Midland Park, NJ -- A speech therapist came into work one day to the Children’s Therapy Center complaining of horrible pain radiating from the outside of her thumb toward her wrist. She described her symptoms to staff occupational therapist Daniella Shor, MA OTR/L, who immediately diagnosed her with De Quervain Syndrome. “Congratulations,” said Shor. “You’ve got New Mother Syndrome.”
Shor explained that someone with De Quervain Syndrome will have pain whenever they turn their wrist, attempt to grasp something, or make a fist. It is a repetitive strain injury to the hand which most often occurs with lifting small babies with the hands and thumbs. New parents or people who work with small children, like therapists and teachers, are especially susceptible. Otherwise known as tendonitis or “trigger finger” in hands, this particular incarnation is an inflammation of the sheath or tunnel that surrounds the two tendons that control movement of the thumb.
De Quervain Syndrome is just one of many repetitive strain injuries that can cause excruciating pain to new parents, and because of the busy lifestyles most parents lead, these injuries often go untreated, leading to the injury becoming much worse before therapy is sought. “These are very serious and debilitating injuries, and it’s difficult to make an appointment to go to therapy when the baby needs a bottle,” Shor said.
In our community, with many families choosing to have small children grouped closely in age, parental injuries abound. Lifting children and twisting quickly to protect children from falling, or putting them in and taking them out of cribs, car seats and strollers, can put so much pressure on backs that parents can slip discs or sustain moderate neck injuries.
While the most serious cases need surgery, in many cases of repetitive strain injuries, physical and occupational therapy can often determine the exact activities to avoid that exacerbate one’s condition, as well as instruct on strengthening exercises to allow one to use better lifting methods and different muscle groups so as to not constantly aggravate the irritated muscles and tendons.
Often, physical and occupational therapists will recommend either that ice or heat be applied to the injured area, as well as rest and pain medication such as Ibuprofen. Cases that are further along may benefit from splinting or cortisone shots, said Shor. Occupational therapists will often go into the patient’s environment and suggest changes to current activities to avoid future injury.
Though Shor now primarily works as an OT with Bergen County children with the diagnosis of CP or genetic disorders, she has worked with adults with repetitive strain injuries, and sees it often in her current workplace and in her community in Bergenfield.
“Most people don’t see parenting as a physically demanding job, but it is much more demanding than sitting at a computer. To protect children, we often ignore the stresses we put on our own bodies,” she said.
“It is always important to pause and stretch muscles, even in your fingers, once an hour, and to regularly do exercises to strengthen your core. A strong core (strengthening of the abdominal walls, lower back, diaphragm and pelvic muscles) means you are less susceptible to repetitive strain injuries,” she added.
Also, it is essential to “remember to use proper lifting mechanics when picking up children, making sure to lift from your knees, and take time to not use quick jerky movements which can put stress on muscles,” she said.
By Elizabeth Kratz