Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during Pregnancy

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome during pregnancy is another common undesired side-effect of carrying a baby.  It affects up to 25% of expectant moms, according to Fit Pregnancy, but usually gradually fades after childbirth.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is marked by a tingling sensation, numbness or pain in the fingers, hand and wrists.  The discomfort is caused by fluid building in the “tunnel” called the carpal tunnel, which is made up of the wrist bones (or carpal bones) and ligaments (or carpal ligaments).  As fluid accumulates, it puts pressure on tendons and the median nerve that controls the thumb and other fingers.  Sometimes the pain from carpal tunnel syndrome can extend up the forearm as well.

carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancyIn addition to the added pressure of fluid filling the carpal tunnel, certain activities can increase tissue in the area and exacerbate the median nerve.  Repetitive movements such as typing on a keyboard, writing, cooking and other such hand and wrist motions can cause carpal tunnel syndrome to flare up.  Usually moms-to-be get carpal tunnel syndrome later in their pregnancies as fluid retention tends to be worse.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is also common in assembly line workers, people who use vibrating equipment and those who work on a computer all day long.

Most pregnant women with carpal tunnel syndrome can find relief through non-invasive treatments including avoiding activities that cause pain, wearing a wrist splint, icing the wrists and hands, eating less salt, and strengthening the carpal tunnel area through exercises.  While staying clear of all activities that move and bend your wrist may not be possible, taking a break from the repetitiveness of these movements can help.  Wrist splints help keep the wrist straight and therefore reduce the pressure on the carpal tunnel.  Also, changing chair positions or using an ergonomic keyboard can provide a better wrist and hand angle.  For severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, doctors may recommend a cortisone shot or a visit to an orthopedist.

Wrist exercises can greatly improve carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy by strengthening the muscles and tendons in the region.  Practicing yoga incorporates many of these beneficial exercises.  If you need a quick routine at home, try wrist extension, flexion and rotating movements.  You can stretch each hand one at a time by using your other hand to bend your fingers downwards or upwards and then circling your wrists in both directions.  Do not perform these exercises to the point of pain, but do not shy away when you feel a healthy stretch.

Many pregnant women experience the worst discomfort of carpal tunnel syndrome at night.  Propping arms while sleeping or wearing a brace and keeping arms in a neutral position can be helpful.  When shooting pain causes nighttime wakefulness, shaking out the hands, wrists and arms may get fluid flowing out of the carpal tunnel to relieve the problem.

If carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy causes constant pain, interrupts sleeping significantly or impedes a new moms’ ability to function in her everyday life, she should seek advice from her healthcare provider.  As fluid reduces after childbirth, carpal tunnel usually subsides within a few weeks.