New Parents and their Injuries
Lately I’ve been treating a lot of new parents for aches and pain all over their body. Anywhere from shoulder, arm, and wrist pain to lower back pain, mostly from holding their babies for prolonged periods of time. Here are the stories of Jane, John and Joan (not their real names!).
Jane has a one-month-old baby who required breastfeeding every 2–3 hours. She presented with neck pain when looking down and sharp pain around her left wrist between her thumb and the forearm. She started noticing the thumb and neck pain after a particular difficult day breastfeeding her baby for several hours straight, but she brushed it off at first because the pain wasn’t severe and she could get relief with rest. However now she’s feeling the pain constantly and she’s finding it difficult to hold and nurse her baby.
The condition on her left wrist is “de Quervain’s tenosynovitis”, or also commonly known as the “mommy thumb”. This issue occurs because when she holds her baby, she puts her left arm around the head of the baby and her thumb is pointed up with the rest of the fingers wrapped around the baby’s back in an un-ergonomic way like the letter “L”. When you do that motion repetitively an overuse of the tendons from the thumb to the wrist could cause the sheath surrounding the tendon to become inflamed, thickened, and swollen, which restricts the movement and causes pain.
The patient’s neck pain most likely came from looking down constantly while she is breast feeding or holding her child. When you spend hours with your neck bent forward, this unnatural load places additional stress on your neck and your shoulders. The surrounding structures undergo a physiological change called “creep”, which refers to the progressive deformation of bodily structures that occurs when the structures are under a constant load they were not designed to handle, like over-stretched rubber.
John has a strained mid and lower back. He has 2 kids, age 5 and 6 months old. He can’t identify the exact mechanism of injury since his mid and lower back has gradually gotten worse over the last 5 years. He does recall doing a lot of hoisting of the baby off the floor, from their crib, or in and out of the car, and bending at his waist to pick things off the floor.
By suddenly exerting your lower back without engaging your core muscles, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints sustain a lot of pressure. With months or years of poor posture and weak core muscles, it’s likely to lead to straining your back.
This condition isn’t only observed in dads, moms could also suffer from it especially if they haven’t taken the time to focus on recovering their bodies after their delivery. During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles are stretched and abused beyond normal range. And after the delivery, it looses its ability to contract and create the intra-abdominal pressure necessary to stiffen and protect your spine.
Joan came in reluctantly after 5 months of caring for her new born baby. Why? She needs to go back to work now but her left sided buttock (sacroiliac joint) area hurts when she sits down longer than an hour. She described her “signature move” is to hold her baby on her left hip tilted up so she can free up her right arm to do more tasks.
By always tilting her left pelvis up, she is always forcing her spine to bend a certain way to compensate for the tilt. Predictably, the patient also presented with tighter lower back muscles on the left side versus the right since they need to work harder to move the left hip area up. This imbalance of the joint also creates a shift of her sacroiliac joints so that she’s getting the pinching pain when she puts pressure on the joint like when she sits.
To prevent further aggravation for these conditions, here’s some basic rules:
- Avoid overuse as much as you can, either with splinting for the mommy thumb, looking up more while breastfeeding, bending through your legs rather than back while picking up heavy objects or your baby, and change up your position between different hips while holding your child, etc.
- Gentle stretching and exercise (especially focused on the core) at home
- Receive treatment (either chiropractic, physiotherapy, acupuncture, or massage therapy) if the pain doesn’t subside within a few weeks.
Last words to mommies and daddies: you’re amazing, and please take care of yourself so you can take care of your little ones :)
Willow Glen Chiropractic
1314 Lincoln Ave Ste 2E
San Jose, CA 95125