Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy

Submitted by Pregnancy and Baby Care team on May 15, 2012

Carpal tunnel syndrome can be described as a progressive painful neurological condition that affects your hand and your arm. It occurswhen there is a pinched nerve in your wrist. Anyone can suffer from this affliction; however, women are at a higher risk of carpal tunnel during pregnancy.

What are the causes of carpal tunnel during pregnancy?


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Around 20% to 50% of all pregnant women experience the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy. This condition is caused by the compression of the median nerve, in the carpal tunnel. This median nerve runs all the way from your forearm, right to your hand, after passing through a passageway in your wrist.

It is this nerve that provides sensation to the palm-side of your fingers and thumb.

There are several factors that could trigger off this problem, like a structural abnormality in the wrists, the manner in which you use your hands and other underlying health problems. However, if you develop this condition only during pregnancy, it could be because of fluid retention, as it increases the pressure in the carpal tunnel, thereby irritating the median nerve.

Another factor that may also lead to carpal tunnel during pregnancy is excessive weight gain, due to overeating or lack of exercise.

Very often, carpal tunnel during pregnancy is caused by a combination of various factors that build up pressure on the median nerve.

What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel during pregnancy?

The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are usually noticed in the fingers (thumb, index, middle) and palm of the affected hand. At times, you may experience the discomfort in your wrists too. Some of the general symptoms of the condition include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain or numbness, which decreases when you move your fingers
  • Tingling or the sensation of being on pins-and-needles
  • Itching or burning
  • Difficulty in moving the hand, probably because of weakness
  • Stiffness, especially when you wake up

There are other conditions too that could trigger off these symptoms. However, if your little finger seems to be unaffected by the pain and discomfort, you are probably suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and should get it checked.

Many women tend to overlook the initial symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, because of all the other changes that are taking place within their bodies. In case you develop this condition,it will probably start off with numbness, tingling and pain in the hand, which worsens when you sleep at night. Some women experience pain so severe, it can wake them up from deep sleep.

If you have developed carpal tunnel during pregnancy, in all probability the symptoms will disappear after childbirth.

What is the best form of treatment for carpal tunnel in pregnancy?

Normally, people who suffer from this condition are prescribed anti-inflammatory medication like corticosteroids. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary, where a doctor will reduce the pressure on the median nerve, by removing the band tissue around the wrists. However, these treatment methods are not appropriate for pregnant women or lactating mothers. In fact, during pregnancy, your doctor may not even allow you to take a painkiller because of the possible side effects. Therefore, the best treatment options available to you include:

  • Rest: Repetitive and continued use of your wrist will worsen the pain, which is why you need to make sure that you give your hands a break frequently. For better results, rest your hand in a splint to stabilize the joint and reduce the stress on the median nerve.
  • Exercise: You can increase the strength in your hands by exercising regularly. Practice only those hand-stretching and strengthening exercises that have been recommended by a physical therapist.
  • Ice: Apply an ice-pack to your hands for about 10 to 15 minutes each day. This helps reduce the inflammation and discomfort in your hands. Avoid any form of heat around the affected hand, as it makes the tissues in the passageway swell.
  • Alternate therapy: Many people seek relief from the symptoms of this this condition through methods like massage therapy, yoga and acupuncture. The effectiveness of these therapies may vary from one person to the other. Moreover, it is absolutely essential to speak to a doctor before trying any of these methods.

It may also be a good idea for you to identify the activities that aggravate the condition, so that you can avoid them completely.

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