Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy: Causes and Symptoms

Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy

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Pregnancy is perhaps one of the best phases in life for any woman and there is a lot of excitement about childbirth and motherhood. At times pregnancy can also be a little uncomfortable and a pregnant woman may deal with morning sickness, swollen ankles, and heartburns.

During pregnancy, women experience pain, numbness, and tingling in their hands and wrists. If women experience these symptoms it can be a symptom known as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common pregnancy discomfort and not a lot of people have knowledge about it.

In this article, you can find out about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of carpal tunnel during pregnancy.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? [CTS]

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects a nerve in your wrist called the median nerve. The nerves send signals from the brain to the body and from your body to your brain. The nerves are responsible for body movements and the ability to touch and feel sensations.

The median nerve goes down from your arm to your hand and it passes the wrist through a narrow area called the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel consists of a ligament and a group of small hand bones called carpal bones. If anything puts pressure on the median nerve or squeezes it as it passes through this tight space, it can cause the symptoms of CTS.

How Early Can Women Get Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy?

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can appear in the first trimester of pregnancy, but the majority of women who experience carpal tunnel syndrome start to feel pain and numbness during the last trimester.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy?

The causes for carpal tunnel during pregnancy are –

For women who move less, the blood circulation to their hands and extremities is slow, and doing repetitive motions that involve hands and wrists are likely to experience this pregnancy symptom.

Carpal tunnel during pregnancy can also be developed due to problems that are not related to the pregnancy. These include rheumatoid arthritis, an injury to the wrist, or repetitive hand movements such as typing on a keyboard.

What Are The Symptoms Of Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy?

A pregnant woman can experience the symptoms of carpal tunnel at any stage of pregnancy but the symptoms are more common in the second and third trimester of pregnancy. The CTS can occur on both hands, but the dominant hand is more likely to show a lot of symptoms because it is used more.

Pregnant women are likely to retain more fluid in the second half of pregnancy, which is why symptoms are usually worse later in pregnancy.

The symptoms of CTS or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are-

  • A burning sensation in your hand and arm
  • A feeling of swelling in the fingers and wrist
  • Clumsiness with your hands and dropping things
  • Feeling like your hand is falling asleep
  • Numbness in the part of your hand near your thumb.
  • Numbness in your thumb, index, and middle fingers.
  • Pain in the hand, wrists, and forearm.
  • Pins and needles in your finger and hand.
  • Pain in the elbow, arm, shoulder, and neck.
  • Weakness when trying to grab objects.

Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy at Night

CTS is known to cause wrist pain in the night and can wake you up. When you’re sleeping, your wrists can bend up or down and press on the median nerve. Shaking your hands when you wake up will make you feel better. A wrist splint can also help, as it keeps your wrist straight while you’re sleeping and relieves pressure on the nerve.

What Helps Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy?

The more you can do now to reduce the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome, the more likely you will feel symptom-free after your delivery.

A few remedies to help CTS are-

1. Use A Wrist Splint

If your carpal tunnel causes you a lot of pain, ask your doctor to recommend a wrist splint. Ensure you wear it all day and at night. Studies have found that around 80 percent of pregnant women with carpal tunnel syndrome have experienced comfort and relaxation while using it.

2. Stretch

It is important to take frequent hand-stretching breaks to relieve pain and tingling while working on a computer or doing any activity which requires repetitive motions.

3. Keep A Proper Position

If you spend a lot of time on a computer typing, ensure that you type gently and make sure you keep a position where your wrists are straight and your elbows are higher than your hands.

4. Sleep Comfortably

It is very important to sleep comfortably and ensure that you do not tighten your limbs while sleeping. and try not to sleep on your hands. Try using a pillow to support your arms at night.

5. Ensure Blood Circulation

Move your hands and wrists frequently, do not keep them still. While sleeping, keep your hand over the side of the bed and shake it often.

6. Reduce Salt Consumption

Reducing your sodium and salt intake can decrease swelling and water retention, both of which exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome.

7. Try Physical Therapy

Acupuncture therapy is known to help relieve hand pain. Ask your doctor for other physical therapy recommendations like yoga.

8. Hot And Cold Packs

Applying hot and cold packs to the swollen area can reduce the pain and swelling.

9. Medications

If recommended by a doctor, take Tylenol (acetaminophen) or a pain relief medication that is safe to use during pregnancy, and if the symptoms are severe, steroid medication is injected with a needle directly into the carpal tunnel area may help to relieve pain and swelling.

Diagnosis For Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy

Consult your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The doctor will talk to you regarding symptoms and examine your hands and wrists to check for any swelling and pain. A doctor will conduct a few tests to check how well you can feel and if there is any weakness in the muscles of your palm or fingers.

A few tests that a doctor might conduct are-

1. Durkan’s Compression Test

In this test, the doctor will press on the median nerve with his or her thumb to check for pain or tingling in your hands and wrists.

2. Phalen’s Test

While conducting this test, the doctor will tell you to hold your forearm up with a bent elbow and allow your wrist to flex naturally down by gravity, or you will have both your wrists flexed down with the backs of your hands touching and pressing against each other to check if you feel burning, tingling, or numbness.

3. Tinel’s Test

This is a very simple test where your doctor will just lightly tap your nerve to see if you feel any tingling in your fingers.

Doctors are likely to use other tests to diagnose CTS, but these tests may not be conducted while you’re pregnant.

If your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms do not go away after the birth of your child, you may undergo these tests:

  • A nerve conduction test or electromyography (EMG)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound
  • X-rays

Is Carpal Tunnel A Sign Of Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication linked to high blood pressure, and a common symptom is sudden severe swelling of the hands. Since carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by swelling in the wrists, it’s possible that preeclampsia swelling could cause tingling or numbness in your hands.

Treatment Of CTS After Childbirth

Once your baby is born, the symptoms of CTS can gradually get better on their own as the hormone and fluid levels return to normal. Relaxing and waiting for a long time is often the best treatment for the symptoms of pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome.

If your symptoms do not improve in a few months after childbirth, your doctor can treat you with:

1. Anti-Inflammatory Medications

These medicines help reduce pain and swelling. While you’re pregnant, you should not take pain medications such as Motrin and Advil (Ibuprofen) unless they are prescribed by your doctor. It is better to consult your doctor about using them after delivery.

2. Diuretics

Diuretics are water pills that can help flush out excess fluid from the body through urination.

3. Physical or Occupational Therapy

Doctors will recommend continuing acupuncture if suggested and also yoga and stretching exercises.

4. Surgery

Surgery is not required but it is very rarely needed if recommended by the doctor.

Final Thoughts

Carpal tunnel during pregnancy is common. Measures like splinting and taking acetaminophen are standard therapies that bring relief. Most women will see their symptoms resolve within 12 months after delivery and in some cases, it may take a little longer. Talk to your doctor about ways to safely manage your symptoms.

FAQs On Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Pregnancy

1) Does pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome go away?

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome typically disappear after delivery as pregnancy swelling diminishes, though it can take up to six weeks postpartum for things to return to normal. Check in with your doctor, though, if it lingers well after that.

2) Can I prevent carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy?

Nearly all women experience swelling that may cause carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms in the last trimester of pregnancy and it's not possible to prevent it. There are a few measures to reduce getting the symptoms of CTS. You have to minimize time spent doing manual tasks such as typing, sewing or knitting, and take breaks to move around and stretch.

3) How to treat CTS while breastfeeding

The treatment of carpal tunnel during breastfeeding involves being aware of your hand position as you breastfeed your baby. Wearing hand splints and rest as much as possible. Try taking water pills to release fluid from the body, and getting steroid injections if necessary. Breastfeeding-related carpal tunnel usually resolves with treatment or once the baby starts consuming food other than the mothers' milk.

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