De Quervain’s Tendonitis and I: A Novel
Updated: Oct 26
You’ll hear women start many a sentence like this when they’re pregnant or a new mother: “No one tells you that…” Could be the fact that morning sickness doesn’t just happen in the morning. Or how you’ll go up a shoe size and may never come back down. Or that your boobs will be really lopsided if you’re breastfeeding.
What I didn’t realize was that my body might buckle a bit. Seems obvious now, but as a rookie, I had no idea. However, I have since learnt that many mothers have had De Quervain’s Tendonitis – to the extent that it is actually also known as Mother’s Wrist – even my own mother and sister experienced it. But I did not know this was a thing before I became a mother myself.
The weight of a baby plus special breastfeeding hormones can really mess shit up, so I wanted to write about my encounter with De Quervain’s Tendonitis in the hopes that other mums (or dads, no discrimination here) need not go down this pain-stricken path.
I won’t bore you with the details, except for this entire post, where I will bore you with the details. I LOVED reading big long stories like this when I was researching my injury. I would voraciously inhale every detail in the hope it would help – or even heal me, somehow. So, feel absolutely free not to read on if your wrists don’t hurt like a bitch from carrying your baby all day. Bye babe, love you!
So… It all began back in the spring of 2021, when the melodious strains of Dua Lipa’s Levitating were dominating the radio waves and Basque burnt cheesecakes were all the rave. Poppy had just turned five months old and I started to feel a niggling ache in my left wrist, which worsened whenever I tried to use it. And my god, do you only realize how often you use your wrists – and how you really can’t do much without them once they begin to fucking hurt.
For the most part, I just trooped on like a fool. I have the upper body strength of a hamster. Add to that the fact that my baby was almost 10 kg, of course, my wrists were gonna hurt. That’s just how ye olde math of life works!
In March, my left wrist got to the point where I couldn’t apply any pressure or weight to it without feeling as though it might snap off, so I went to see a few masseurs and talked to a couple of doctors who rubbed my wrist and all kind of told me the same thing: wear a wrist guard and STOP CARRYING YOUR BABY. This advice felt disingenuous to me – the primary carer and therefore carrier of Poppy.
What really grinds my gears is this: body aches and pains are possible, even probable during pregnancy and after childbirth, but are totally manageable with professional treatment and the right exercises. Yet so many new mums don’t seem to know this and just surrender themselves to a life of backaches and wrist pains. (Or is this just me?)
I live in Singapore, have access to high speed internet, and still had trouble finding the right person(s) to help me. Annnnnyway, this put me off seeking further help with my wrist… Until July came rolling around and my other wrist began hurting.
FUCK, I thought. Poppy wasn’t walking independently yet. And worse still, she'd developed a will of her own and had started fighting back. Imagine wrestling with a young baby as you attempt to strap her into the stroller when all she wants to do is play on the swings… and losing the battle. That was my life.
I went into Heightened Google Mode, which is like normal Googling, but with desperation, Maltesers, and without a time limit on finding what I needed. Finally, I came across a physiotherapist by the name of Cuijing Wang who founded Physioavenue. By some stroke of luck, I’d started talking to a fellow mum around this time who also recommended Cuijing as she specializes in pre-natal and post-partum rehabilitation. I rarely talk to other people – let alone other mums – so took this as a sign to reach out to Cuijing. Long story short, Cuijing is absolutely phenomenal and I pretty much attribute my recovery to her.
NO TO BEING A HERO, YO TO DOING PHYSIO
From having never tried physiotherapy, I am now evangelical. Cuijing did a quick assessment on me during our first session and as we’d suspected, it was chicken pox. No, wait. It was De Quervain’s Tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendons that control thumb movement, which can cause pain and tenderness when moving the thumb or wrist. If left untreated, this pain may spread up through the arm.
I’ve always said to her she had magic hands because she’d do all sorts of wonderful things like apply some pressure around my shoulder joint for 20 seconds, which would give my wrist instant relief. In the days following Cuijing’s work, I felt incredible. I dared to believe I was completely healed – the mind is a big player in chronic injury – but the pain would always return, just not as acute as before.
Magic hands aside, Cuijing is so good at what she does, because as a mother of two who also experienced some of these aches herself, she understands the demands of pregnancy and motherhood. I did not fully comprehend how much stress a woman’s body undergoes throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and post-partum until she brought it up. Most of the changes to my physical body over this time had been happening inside of me, gradually and passively – so easy to forget or even acknowledge. Pregnancy and motherhood is unforgiving, relentless work – particularly on the body – it’s a wonder so many women have gone through it, continue to go through it, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
But most importantly, Cuijing didn’t look at me with patronizing eyes while offering unrealistic solutions to my problem. She plainly explained that my pains would never truly disappear as long as I was breastfeeding because relaxin would continue to be produced in my body. Relaxin is a hormone that loosens muscles and ligaments in the body, resulting in less stable and more lax joints that are prone to spraining or overstretching. She agreed that a wrist guard and not carrying Poppy would help, but also recognized that they weren’t viable for someone in my position. Instead, she encouraged me to do simple stretches daily and implored me to start lifting some weights to strengthen my core to prevent future and further injury to my extremities.
HotDAWG. This is a long post. I’m sorry. But not really, because if this wasn’t of interest or relevance to you, you would have already gone back to scrolling Instagram. Plus, I’m passionate about this stuff, because I’ve spent almost the past year living in pain and unsure about how to fix a very preventable and curable problem. And also, being pregnant and/or a mother is tough enough without being in agony, ay.
WHERE IT'S ALL AT NOW
I ended up seeing Cuijing three times over the course of two months. It’s been a month and a half since our last session and the pain in my left wrist (the one that started hurting in the spring of 2021) is completely gone. My right wrist still hurts whenever I use it, but it’s being managed and it’s nowhere as bad as it was before. I've since given up opening jars and making natural cordage from foraged leaves because these hobbies were aggravating my wrists.
Scott and my dad now guide me through some free-weight exercises a couple of nights each week, which have been very effective. I love how the exercises mimic how I move in regular life and it's only been a few weeks but I already feel stronger – hench, even. My core, which has been missing in action for the longest time, is starting to come back. I can now feel myself activating those muscles whenever I pick Poppy up.
TL;DR – It’s NOT normal to feel incredible pain when you’re preggo or post-partum. Don’t be afraid to try out a new specialist if you have pain that isn’t getting any better. I highly recommend that whoever you see specializes in pregnancy/post-partum issues. Added bonus if they do house visits like Cuijing, because getting out of the house is near impossible for a breastfeeding mum who only directly latches her baby.
Fun fact – My OB-GYN told me that while you still have the dark line (linea nigra) running down your tummy, your body is still very much in ‘pregnancy mode’ and the relaxin is still flowing.
Unfun fact – The baby needs rocking.