5 May, 2020 Physician Kang Ting Tan

TCM for De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis (妈妈手)

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What is De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis?

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, commonly known as “Mother’s Hand” (妈妈手) is a painful condition affecting the tendons around the base on the thumb side of your wrist.  It occurs when there is inflammation in the tenosynovium and tendons in the wrist. 

Tendons attach muscle to bone. Normally, the two tendons in the wrist glide smoothly through the small tunnel that connects them to the base of the thumb. 

Repetitive and chronic usage may irritate the sheath around the two tendons, causing inflammation, swelling and thickening. This results in pain and movement restriction of the thumb and wrist. 

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This condition is also known as “Mother’s Hand” (妈妈手) as it is commonly found in new mothers. Hormonal fluctuation and repetitive lifting of the baby with your hands in an “L” shape (with your fingers on baby’s back and your thumbs on his/her chest) are the main culprits for putting pressure and strain on your thumb and wrist. 

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Causes:

  • Chronic overuse of your wrist.
  • Any activity that relies on repetitive wrist or hand movement like lifting your baby, prolonged use of the mouse/mobile phone, gaming or working in the garden. 

Symptoms:

  • Swelling, soreness or pain near the base of your thumb side of your wrist; pain may travel into the forearm 
  • Pain worsens with hand and thumb movement, such as grasping an object 
  • Gradual or sudden onset
  • A “snapping” or “sticking” sensation in your thumb when moving it
  • Difficulty moving the affected wrist or thumb
How to check if you have De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
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  1. Bend your thumb so it rests across your palm.
  2. Make a fist, closing your fingers over your thumb.
  3. Bend your wrist toward your little finger

If you experience pain or tenderness at the base of your thumb, you probably have De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis.

TCM’s approach to De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

Depending on the cause, symptoms and duration as diagnosed by the TCM practitioner, the following combinations of methods are used to treat this issue. 

  1. Acupuncture 
  2. Tuina 
  3. External application 
  4. Lifestyle modifications

It may take around 4 to 6 weeks to improve the symptoms.  Early recognition and treatment are key factors for improvement.

Lifestyle modifications

1. Wearing a splint for 4 to 6 weeks

This supports and immobilises the thumb and wrist, hence reducing symptoms.

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2. Rest the hand and avoid any activity that causes repetitive thumb and wrist motion.

3. For mothers, it can be difficult to prevent the repetitive thumb motions as they need to lift the child many times a day. These are some methods to reduce the occurrences of pain. 

  • Lift your baby differently
    Keep the palm of your hand up and lift your baby under their bottom instead of lifting your baby under the arms. 
  • Check your breastfeeding position
    During breastfeeding, use a pillow for support so that the full weight of your baby’s head is not resting on your hand. 
  • Hand exercises 
    • Opposition Stretch
      Touch the tip of each finger with your thumb. When you reach the tip of your little finger, hold this position for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10 times for each hand.
    • Grip strengthening
      Squeeze a soft rubber ball, hold the squeeze for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times for each hand.

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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About the Author

Physician Kang Ting Tan

Physician Kang Ting Tan

TCM Physician

Double Degree (First Class Honours): Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences & Bachelor of Medicine (Chinese Medicine), Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine

Physician Tan Kang Ting graduated with a First-Class Honours in B.sc. in Biomedical Science and Bachelor’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. She was a scholarship recipient of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine Foreign Student Scholarship. She was also awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal in NTU.

She has a passion for learning. She continuously upgrades herself by reading TCM books, journals and e-learning platforms. Her caring personality is well-liked by her patients.

Physician Tan’s expertise: General Wellness, Pain Management, Injury Management and Women’s Health