How To Deal With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome In Pregnancy?

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Pregnancy changes you physically and emotionally. Some changes are pleasant and the others are not. One of the common discomforts that will bug you during pregnancy is the carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain and numbness that prevent you from doing any activity.

But what makes you prone to this syndrome and how can you deal with it?

MomJunction answers these questions and more in this post about the carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful arm and hand condition in which the median nerve of the wrist is prone to compression. This nerve runs from the neck to the fingers through the shoulder and passes through a narrow region called carpal tunnel located in the wrist.

The carpal tunnel is made of ligament and tiny carpal bones. If the median nerve is crushed or squeezed in any way, it causes the carpal tunnel syndrome (1).

Image: Shutterstock

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What Are The Causes Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your body undergoes many physical and hormonal changes that could lead to fluid retention. This can cause swelling and build up pressure on the carpal tunnel. The increased pressure in the narrow tunnel compresses the median nerve, causing painful symptoms of the condition (2).

You are more likely to experience the condition:

  • If you have had it in a previous pregnancy
  • There’s a history of this syndrome in the family
  • You have problems associated with the neck, shoulders or back such as a whiplash injury or broken collarbone (3)
  • You are gaining excess weight, which can put extra strain on the ribs, shoulders, and arms. This can happen due to – twin/multiple pregnancies, being overweight before conception, and bigger breasts during pregnancy

Carpal tunnel syndrome can also develop due to other issues such as a wrist injury, rheumatoid arthritis, and frequent hand movements while typing or cooking.

Next, learn how to identify this syndrome.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Symptoms of this condition can show up anytime during pregnancy, but they tend to get worse in the second and third trimesters. The symptoms vary and can affect either one or both of the hands (4).

  • A tingling sensation and numbness in the hands, wrists, and fingers
  • A throbbing pain in the forearm, wrists, and fingers
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder, and elbow
  • Swollen fingers and wrist
  • A burning sensation in the arm and hand
  • Difficulty in holding objects
  • Difficulty in performing tasks that need finger coordination
  • Worsening pain at night

If the symptoms are bothersome, consult a doctor to avoid further complications.

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When Should You Call Your Doctor?

Contact your doctor if:

  • The discomfort and the pain are interfering with your sleep
  • The symptoms are constant
  • There is a persisting loss of sensation

If not, you may find relief from the condition eventually.

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When Will Pregnancy Induced Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Go Away?

For most women, carpal tunnel syndrome will dissipate quickly after giving birth. It usually resolves within six to 12 weeks postpartum.

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Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Affect The Unborn Baby?

  • No, it will not cause any harm to the developing baby although it creates pain and discomfort to the pregnant mom.

If you suspect you have developed the condition, go to a doctor for further diagnosis and treatment.

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How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed During Pregnancy?

The doctor will examine your hands for swelling and other symptoms. A few simple tests may also be recommended to check for weakness in the muscles of your palms and fingers.

Tests that can be used to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Durkan’s carpal compression test: The doctor uses the thumb to apply direct pressure on the carpal tunnel and the underlying median nerve to evaluate the pain and tingling sensations (5).
  • Tinel’s test: The doctor lightly taps on the median nerve to check if there is a tingling sensation in the fingers (6).
  • Phalen’s test: The doctor holds your forearm and asks you to bend the elbow, with the wrists freely falling to maximum flexion. You can also flex down both your wrists by pressing the back of your hands against each other. Remain in this position for 60 seconds to check if there is tingling, burning or numbness.

If the diagnosis is uncertain with the above test procedures, you may have to take the following tests (7):

  • Nerve conduction test: This test analyzes the speed with which the median nerve transmits signals. Electric shock treatment is given to the nerve by placing electrodes on the hand and wrist. The speed and intensity of the response in the muscle are measured to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Electromyography (EMG): A small needle is inserted into the muscle tissue to measure its electrical activity.
  • Imaging tests: Ultrasound, X-ray or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are also used to find physical abnormalities in the median nerve.

Based on the diagnosis, the doctor will recommend an appropriate solution.

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How To Ease The Pain Caused By The Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Following are a few home remedies to ease the pain (8).

  • Ask your doctor to suggest a wrist brace or splint, and wear it at night. Splints prevent you from curling your hands in sleep and avoiding the stress build-up on the joint.
  • Apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas on the wrist to relieve the pain. You can also place your hands in ice-cold water for relief.
  • Take frequent breaks between work, especially if it involves moving hands and fingers.
  • Move your hand frequently to improve the blood flow and decrease fluid accumulation.
  • Perform alternative thermal therapy by keeping your hands in cold water and then in warm water for about five to six minutes. It helps reduce the irritation of the symptoms.
  • Place white or green cabbage leaves on your affected hands to drain away fluids and relieve the swelling. Do not wash the leaves, instead wipe them clean, and cool in the fridge before using.

Carpal tunnel exercises will also help relieve the pain (9).

  1. Bend your wrist forward and then backward by keeping your fingers straight. Repeat it ten times.
  1. Make a proper fist and then extend all your fingers. Repeat ten times.
  1. Using your thumb, touch each finger to make an ‘O’ shape.

Massaging also eases the pain.

  1. Massage your wrists by rubbing one side of the wrist firmly with the palm facing up. Do it as often as possible.
  1. Some of the muscles that control the wrists and hands are present in the forearm. Massage both sides of the forearm, starting from the elbow to 10cm above the wrists.
  1. A gentle massage from your wrists and hands towards your armpits, shoulders, neck and upper back helps too (10).

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What Are The Treatment Options For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy?

If the symptoms are severe and do not go away with the above measures, your doctor may suggest the following treatments.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers are prescribed for treating inflammation and pain (11).
  • Surgery is required if the condition is intolerable but it is rare. Also, a surgery will be put on hold until childbirth.

In the meanwhile, you can try alternative therapies that provide relief.

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Complementary And Alternative Therapies For Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

You can choose from a range of alternative therapies upon discussion with the qualified and registered therapist.

1. Acupuncture/ acupressure

Acupuncture helps relieve the pain (12). You can also try acupressure by applying pressure to the pericardium point 6, which is located inside the wrist. If you are experiencing pain in both the hands, you can ask your partner or someone else to do it for you.

How to find pericardium point 6?

Measure up to three-finger width from the wrist crease, and you will feel a slight dip where the buckle of the wristwatch would be. Apply pressure on this point, and massage it for four to five seconds (13).

2. Aromatherapy

Essential oils are helpful in reducing the swelling. Cypress, lemon, and eucalyptus are some of the most useful oils (14). Take about two drops of the essential oil in cold or warm water, and soak a cloth in it. Place it over the affected area.

3. Herbal remedies

Chamomile tea is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and helps reduce swelling (15). You can make an infusion by steeping two teaspoons of dried chamomile flower in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Having it once a day can help ease the pain.

4. Osteopathy

The holistic approach aims to restore and maintain balance in the muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints. It also treats carpal tunnel syndrome (16) by alleviating neck and shoulder pain. In turn, it also lowers pressure in the hands, wrist, and fingers.

5. Reflexology

A reflexologist uses techniques to open the wrist joints, to give the median nerve some room to move. They stimulate the blocked energy pathways to stretch out the tendons that are not working correctly. The beneficial and relaxing treatment helps reverse the pain and prevents it from recurring (17).

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While you may not entirely prevent this condition, you can minimize the risk of developing it.

How To Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy?

You can prevent the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome by changing your habits and lifestyle.

  • Minimize the time spent on manual tasks such as typing, knitting or sewing.
  • Flex or stretch your arms and fingers at frequent intervals between work.
  • Avoid activities that put pressure on the wrists.
  • If you work on a computer, try having an adjustable table and chair with a wrist rest.
  • Eat a balanced diet, drink enough water and eat about five portions every day.
  • Include foods rich in vitamin B6 as they promote a healthy nervous system (18). Some of the sources include dark green vegetables, hazelnuts, avocados, garlic, lean meat and oily fish (salmon and cod).
  • Get a well-fitted maternity bra as it takes off the weight from the rib cage and breastbone and helps relieve pressure on the median nerve.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition but can be managed. If the condition is undiagnosed and remains untreated, it can lead to permanent damage to the nervous system. So, talk to your doctor, take a second opinion if needed and get the necessary treatment to live better.

Do you have any experiences to share about with carpal tunnel syndrome? Let us know in the comments section below.