Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy

Carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy is a relatively common condition. Learn in this article what it is and how to prevent it.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy

Last update: 14 August, 2022

During pregnancy, changes occur that can trigger discomfort in different areas of the body and affect various tissues. Sometimes, these changes produce painful conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

This condition can appear around the third trimester of pregnancy, due to the fluid retention typical of this stage. Do you want to know more about it? Here, we’ll tell you all about it.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel formed by the bones at the base of the hand and some ligaments, through which tendons and nerves pass.

There are situations that produce a swelling of the soft structures that make up the cavity and this produces pressure on the median nerve. When compressed, it causes tingling, pain, and weakness in the hands (and sometimes in the forearm). This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Towards the end of pregnancy, pregnant women are more prone to this condition, due to fluid retention typical of this stage

A woman with hand pain.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel include pain, tingling, weakness, and loss of sensation in the affected hand.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

Some pregnant women may suffer from muscle cramps affecting the hands. However, carpal tunnel syndrome is accompanied by characteristic symptoms that appear gradually. Among these, we can highlight the following:

  • Tingling or numbness of the hand, which may extend into the forearm
  • Moderate to severe throbbing pain in the affected hand, in the palm, and in the thumb, index, middle, and part of the ring finger
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Loss of sensation in the affected hand (in more advanced cases)

Usually, this syndrome affects the hand that the pregnant woman uses most for her daily tasks (especially if she performs strong or repetitive movements), but there’s also a possibility of it appearing in both limbs.

According to a study conducted in pregnant women with carpal tunnel syndrome, this condition in pregnancy produces more daytime paresthesias (tingling) than nighttime paresthesias (tingling). This differentiates it from idiopathic carpal tunnel syndrome.

A pregnant woman lying in bed with her arm raised.
Resting with your arms raised or avoiding pressure on the hands helps to relieve the pain.

How can we relieve carpal tunnel syndrome?

These are some of the measures that can be taken to relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy:

  • Use night splints to prevent changes in posture during the night from further compressing the nerve.
  • Apply ice to the painful area.
  • Sleep with arms raised or try not to put pressure on the hands.
  • Avoid repetitive movements with the affected hand, as they increase the pressure in the area and intensify the symptoms.
  • Swimming during pregnancy is beneficial, both to avoid pain in the pelvic and abdominal muscles and to prevent fluid retention. Stroking may be appropriate for eliminating excess fluids in the arms.
  • Perform exercises to promote circulation in the hands, such as making circular movements with the wrist, moving the fingers as if playing a piano, or performing handshakes.

In addition, pregnant women can resort to acupuncture to treat the pain. If the discomfort is sustained over time, steroid injections may be necessary for the carpal tunnel. Ideally, you should consult a traumatologist for the appropriate treatment and avoid self-medication.

Can this syndrome be prevented in pregnancy?

To prevent carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy, fluid retention should be avoided during the last trimester. To do this, take into account these recommendations:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Avoid foods high in sodium.
  • Wear loose or not too tight clothing.
  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in fiber, to prevent, among other things, constipation.

It’s important to note that it’s common that, after childbirth, the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome disappear without specific treatment because fluid retention begins to decrease. If they persist, it’s important to seek medical evaluation.

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