Raising children is rewarding. It is also a lot of work. Parents and caretakers don’t always pay attention to how they are using their hands or arms for everyday tasks involved in childcare. The focus of attention is most often on taking care of the child’s needs, not the proper way to lift or position their body. Repeating tasks in poor positions will result in overuse injuries. If you are a caretaker for a young child and are experiencing hand discomfort, here are some signs of overuse and what to do about it!
Signs and Symptoms of Overuse
- Numbness in the fingers from sustained wrist and elbow positions while holding and feeding the child
- Cramping of the fingers and thumbs from prolonged positions and lifting
- Sharp pain through the thumb and wrist when pinching or lifting
- Pain at the base of the thumb and wrist from repetitive movements
- Muscle stiffness in the neck or shoulders from carrying the child and his or her supplies/diaper bag
What can you do to decrease the effects?
- Be mindful of how you lift. Think of a scooping motion using your hands rather than using your thumbs.
- Take breaks when feeding the child so you can move your wrists around. Alternate hands and positions if possible.
- Use both hands when pushing a stroller to distribute the pressure.
- Grip only as tightly as needed on stroller or carriers to decrease pressure through your wrists and forearms.
- When holding a bottle, allow it to rest on your palm versus pinching it.
- Grip diaper taps and clothing snaps between the fingers and palm rather than only between the index finger and thumb.
- Modify how you hold the baby carrier. Try reaching through and holding underneath.
- When picking up the baby or infant, try placing one hand on their back and the other on their bottom to increase the support from your palms.
- Use a backpack or cross-body bag to distribute weight versus a traditional diaper bag.
- Lift with your arms closer to your side versus outstretched to use more core strength.
Other things that can help:
- Do isolated strengthening exercises for forearm muscles to increase stability and prevent increased stress on forearm musculature /prevent lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).
- Stretch your forearm and hand muscles to decrease tightness and prevent injury.
- Use ergonomic strollers and carriers that have adapted handles.
- Use your infant as a weight for core and strengthening exercises. This will be both good for you and fun for them!
- Use resting braces for night time.
In theory, it is easy to keep these suggestions in mind when taking care of a child, but there are times when it might not be practical or safe to use these. In the case where you begin to notice the effects of increased activity, visit a hand therapist or your local hand surgeon.
Michelle McMurray, MOT, OTR/L, CHT is a Certified Hand Therapist, a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT) and an affiliate member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH).