Tingling, Aching Hands in Pregnancy? It Could Be Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

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woman holding her wrist

Pregnancy, though a time of joy as you prepare for the birth of a child, also comes with a lot of unwanted symptoms – from morning sickness and fatigue, to heartburn, back pain and swelling. While you may expect to experience these and other symptoms, one symptom that may come as a surprise is pain, tingling or numbness in your hands and wrists – signs of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is actually a very common complaint during pregnancy and can affect as many as 60 percent of pregnant women. Though it is usually temporary, carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy can cause a lot of discomfort while symptoms persist.

What Causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy?

When you are pregnant your blood volume doubles. This extra fluid can cause increased pressure and swelling throughout the body. When swelling occurs around the wrist, it can compress the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. The median nerve supplies sensation to the hand/fingers as well as many muscles in the hand. When the median nerve is compressed, it can cause numbness, tingling, pain and weakness into the hands, says University Hospitals orthopedic hand surgeon Jonathan Macknin, MD. Swelling in the hands can be worsened due to decreased hand and finger movement. Repetitive activities can also aggravate carpal tunnel symptoms.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually show up in the third trimester. The symptoms are typically more pronounced at night due to fluid redistribution, as well as wrist positioning while sleeping. The pressure in the carpal tunnel can increase two to three times when the wrist is in full flexion or extension, explains Dr. Macknin.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the wrist, hands or fingers
  • Burning sensation
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Decreased dexterity

The good news is that the symptoms of pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome typically go away after delivery, though it can take up to six weeks postpartum before they improve, Dr. Macknin says. It is important to carefully monitor symptoms as they can persist and lead to permanent nerve damage.

When it comes to treating the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy, orthopedic experts recommend conservative methods as a first line of treatment. These include:

  • Wearing a splint or wrist brace with the wrist in a neutral position while sleeping
  • Hand therapy for exercises to help control swelling
  • Medications – ask your doctor if medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
  • medications or steroids are safe to take during pregnancy. A steroid injection administered into the carpal tunnel can often provide effective relief if other treatment options are unsuccessful.

Surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome is reserved for cases that do not respond to conservative treatment. It is generally recommended to wait until after delivery to undergo surgery, though you can talk to your provider about the risks and benefits.

Additional things you can do at home to help relieve carpal tunnel symptoms include:

  • Stretch and gently shake your wrists and hands frequently to relieve pain and improve circulation
  • Make sure to properly position your hands and wrists when doing repetitive motions such as typing, focusing on keeping your wrists straight
  • Reducing salt intake to decrease swelling

Related Links

University Hospitals has a team of orthopedic specialists that can diagnose and treat carpal tunnel syndrome and other hand and wrist conditions. We also have a network of women’s health experts, including board-certified OB/GYNs and certified nurse-midwives, to guide you through your pregnancy and provide care for the symptoms and conditions that crop up during the prenatal and postpartum periods.

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