From tennis elbow to handmaid’s knee, why moms ‘in particular’ are susceptible to injury

A mother holds her child as she reads a cookbook while prepping veggies, illustrating that how moms can be susceptible to overuse injuries because of repetitive movements like carrying children, according to experts.
Moms are susceptible to overuse injuries because of repetitive movements like carrying children, say experts. (Getty Images)

Being a mom requires a level of activity that many women didn't have before they had kids. After all, caring for children involves regularly lifting little ones, kneeling at their level, carrying tons of gear and constantly darting around to try to keep children from getting into things they shouldn't. Unfortunately, that can lead to a slew of overuse injuries in mothers.

A lot of the injuries that moms can face are due to "repetitive movements with improper body mechanics," Michaela Campagnolo, lead physical therapist at Northwestern Medicine Rehabilitation Services in Naperville, Ill., tells Yahoo Life. Things like lifting car seats and loading strollers into trunks and up stairs "take a toll on the body," she points out. And, Campagnolo says, moms can be especially prone to these injuries in the postpartum period. "Looseness of joints from certain hormones associated with pregnancy and breastfeeding can make you more vulnerable," she says.

Physical therapist Nancy R. Kirsch, vice chair of Rehabilitation and Movement Sciences at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, tells Yahoo Life: "Mothers in particular are susceptible to injury because often they are not ready for the increased demand of the high activity level of being a parent."

Kirsch adds: "It helps to consider parenting as a sport and have the mindset as we do for any sport that our body and mind are ready for the activity."

No matter how prepared you feel physically for parenthood, moms can still develop parenting-related injuries and need care, Dr. Andrew Sobel, assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.

Here are some of the big injuries moms can experience, plus how to get relief — and prevent them from happening in the first place.

Lower back issues

Back issues are "incredibly common" for parents, especially those who have babies or young children, Dr. Mara Vucich, a physical and rehabilitation medicine specialist at the Maryland Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells Yahoo Life. "It's thought to be related to all the bending and twisting, like giving your baby a bath or lifting your baby or toddler in and out of their car seat," she says.

These moves, Vucich says, "put extra strain and increased pressure on the spine." Even regularly carrying an overloaded diaper bag can throw off your posture and lead to back pain, Kirsch says.

To try to lower your risk of developing back pain, Vucich recommends doing your best to follow the proper techniques for lifting things, like bending your knees and not twisting while holding something heavy. Kirsch agrees. "Try to correct movement patterns to protect your back," she says.

And, if you're already injured, taking an anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen and icing the area may help, Vucich says. If the pain doesn't get better over a few days or feels like it's getting worse, Kirsch suggests consulting a physical therapist for help. This, she says, "can help you analyze daily activities that are impacting your function and give you strategies to be efficient, effective and, most of all, safe."

Handmaid's knee

Known to the medical community as prepatella bursitis, this is an inflammation of the bursa sac in the front of your kneecap, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). There are a few symptoms to look out for, the AAOS says, including:

  • Pain with activity

  • Rapid swelling on the front of the kneecap

  • Tenderness and warmth to the touch

It can be caused by "frequent kneeling," Campagnolo says, like getting up and down to retrieve toys or kneeling down to give your child a bath. To lower the odds you'll develop handmaid's knee, Campagnolo recommends kneeling on a padded surface (vs. the hard floor) to help cushion your knee. If you've developed handmaid's knee, using ice and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help reduce swelling and pain, she says. "If there is swelling or redness, or the pain persists, the individual should see their primary care physician," Kirsch says.

Tennis elbow

Also known as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow "is a wear-and-tear phenomenon, and it can be exacerbated by overuse and repetitive activities," Sobel says. Carrying a baby or toddler around, or holding a newborn in ways that you probably haven't held things in the past "can put a lot of stress on the tendon in that elbow," he says.

Symptoms of tennis elbow include soreness or pain on the outside side of the upper arm near the elbow, according to Medline Plus. Campagnolo suggests lifting things with your palms facing up and doing your best to avoid repeatedly extending your wrists and fingers in awkward ways. It's also a good idea to try to limit how much you carry at once, Kirsch says. "Do not overstress the musculature by trying to carry children and packages and manipulate items such as keys or cooking tools simultaneously," she says.

If you end up developing tennis elbow, Vucich suggests putting ice on the outside of your elbow two to three times a day, taking NSAIDs, and doing your best to avoid overusing your arm. If you're still having trouble, Sobel says you may need a wrist brace. "Even though the issue is at the elbow, the tendon that is having some wear and tear extends to the wrist," he explains. "If you protect the wrist, you protect the elbow. It can calm down with a few weeks of bracing."

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis

This condition is a mouthful, but De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a condition that affects the tendons on the thumb side of your wrist, Sobel says. He adds that this is an "extremely common" condition that he sees in new moms.

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis can cause symptoms like pain and swelling near the base of your thumb, trouble moving your thumb and wrist when you need to grasp or pinch something and feeling a "sticking" sensation in your thumb when you move it, the Mayo Clinic says.

Limiting repetitive lifting and side-to-side movement of your wrist, along with loosening your grip on small. objects (like your child's favorite toy or pacifier) can help lower the risk you'll develop the condition, Campagnolo says. If you happen to develop the injury, it can be "very effectively" treated with a cortisone shot and wearing a brace for a certain period of time, Sobel says.

Carpal tunnel

Carpal tunnel "is one of the most well-known overuse syndromes," Kirsch says. Symptoms can include numbness, tingling and weakness in the hand and arm, and it's caused by repetitive motions, she says. Moms can also develop carpal tunnel if they hold their wrist at a sharp angle while nursing their baby, Sobel says.

Being mindful of how you use your wrists — and straightening them when you can — can help lower the risk you'll develop carpal tunnel as a mom, Sobel says. But if you happen to develop the condition, resting your wrists and icing the area may help, Kirsch says. Using a wrist brace and getting a cortisone shot can be "effective and almost curative," Sobel points out.

If you've developed an injury and it's not getting better, experts say you shouldn't just let it go. "Most of these conditions can be treated effectively," Sobel says. "But you may need to see your doctor for help."

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