During pregnancy, everything is uncomfortable apart from the feeling that you are soon going to become a mother. Nausea, morning sickness, vomiting, constipation, and various aches, and pains in the body make the expecting mother irritated and uncomfortable. One more thing that adds to the list, Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). This discomfort, also called numbness in the hands, starts during the later stages of pregnancy, i.e., during the final trimester. Some women experience this syndrome during the early stages of pregnancy. One study estimated that CTS occurred in around 31-62% of pregnant women. Experts say that carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy is mainly caused due to the retention of fluid in the ankles and fingers, resulting in swelling of the hands.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Is It Common During Pregnancy:

Our body has a median nerve that runs from the neck to the shoulder and the fingers. The median nerve is responsible for the feelings in the fingers. Our hand has a small narrow passageway made up of tiny carpal bones called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve passes through this carpal tunnel. When this tunnel is narrowed because of swelling, the median nerve gets compressed, leading to pain and numbness in the hand. This is called Carpal tunnel syndrome. As stated earlier, more than 50 per cent of pregnant women experience this discomfort, and hence can be said that this is a common phenomenon that occurs during pregnancy.

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Causes for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a common problem that occurs during the 2nd or 3rd trimesters of the gestational period in pregnant women. Some of the leading causes for this are:

  • The median nerve gets compressed in the carpal tunnel leading to pain or numbness.
  • During pregnancy, excess fluid in the body results in the swelling of the hands, which in turn puts pressure on the carpal bones and the median nerve.
  • Moving the hands a lot less decreases blood circulation and fluid circulation. Fluid retention in the hand’s results in swelling and in turn causes CTS.
  • If you had the CTS in your previous pregnancy, the chances of getting in this pregnancy are higher.
  • The occurrence of CTS is quite high if any one of the family members like the father, mother, brother, or sister has this syndrome.

Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) doesn’t occur appear at once. It has certain symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of CTS are:

  • You will feel nothing in the fingers, i.e., total numbness in the fingers, wrists, and hands. The numbness worsens during the night.
  • A tingling effect, just like poking with pins and needles in the fingers.
  • Sometimes the fingers get swelled.
  • A throbbing sensation in the hands, fingers, and wrists.
  • Difficulty in picking up small weights and even minor objects.
  • You will face problems in performing excellent motor skills such as removing the shirt or turning the pages in the book, picking up the pen, etc.
  • Difficulty in shaking hands with others, sometimes you may face difficulty in lifting your own hands.

Diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy:

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is often diagnosed by the doctor based on the symptoms you describe.

  • A physical examination of the hands by poking a small pen on the damaged area helps the doctor confirm the CTS preliminarily.
  • An extensive physical examination includes electrodiagnostic tests. In this test, thin needles or electrodes are used to record the signals of the median nerve. The blockage or slowdown of the electric signals indicates that the median nerve is damaged.
  • Tinel’s sign is another physical examination done on the hands. In this test, the doctor lightly taps the affected area with a small medical hammer. The tingling sensation indicates that the median nerve has been damaged.

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Treating of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome:

Usually, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome heals by itself soon after the delivery. But, in some cases, this discomfort continues even after birth. Hence doctors recommend treating this syndrome conservatively. Some of the treatments are listed below.

1. Wrist Splint:

Wear a brace or splint that keeps the wrist intact and straight. This relieves the pressure on the carpal tunnel. It is beneficial if you wear this brace throughout the night.

2. Cold Therapy:

This is practised to decrease the swelling in the hands. Apply a cube of ice-wrapped cloth on the wrist and hand for about 15 minutes to reduce the swelling. Repeat the process several times a day.

3. Contrast Bath:

Dip your swollen hand in cold water for 2 minutes and then dip it in warm water for 2 minutes. Keep alternating this process for 10 minutes. This helps in the smooth circulation of blood and retained fluid in the wrist.
As far as possible, prevent the activities that may cause pain in the wrist. Also, avoid bending your wrist quite often.

4. Cabbage Leaves:

There is no proven evidence that using cabbage leaves can ease swelling. But there is no harm in trying. Clean the cabbage leaves and put them in the refrigerator. Wrap the cold cabbage leaves around the wrists, and leave them until the leaves become wet. Remove them and use fresh leaves.

5. Yoga and Exercises:

Yoga is the best form of exercise that helps in relieving any kind of pain in the body—practice yoga related to the hands and wrists to ease the swelling.

6. Physical Therapy:

Myofascial release therapy is one of the best therapies that is recommended by doctors. This eases the pain related to CTS and improves hand function.

7. Warm Oil Massage:

Massaging with warm oil on the affected area eases the swelling and pain related to CTS. Massaging will increase the flow of blood in the hands and thereby improves hand function.

8. Acupuncture and acupressure may also help ease the pain related to CTS.

Medications for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy:

Some medications can be tried for Carpal Tunnel syndrome, but it is advisable to seek home remedies before going for over-the-counter medications. Certain pain relievers can be taken to ease the pain related to CTS. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is considered the safest drug to take during pregnancy, as long as you don’t exceed 3000mg per day. Avoid taking ibuprofen (Advil) during pregnancy unless recommended by a doctor.

The bottom line is that carpal tunnel syndrome is quite common during pregnancy. This can be avoided by doing regular hand exercises for proper blood circulation. Swelling in the hands can be avoided by following the tips mentioned above, usage of braces or splints for the wrist can ease the pain related to CTS. Over-the-counter, medicines such as Acetaminophen can be used, but under the supervision of your doctor.

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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers:

Q1. Why does CTS occur during pregnancy?

Ans: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs because the median nerve that runs through the neck to the fingers gets compressed between the carpal bones resulting in numbness of the hand and wrist. Due to excess fluid retention in the body, the hands get swelled, exerting pressure on the carpal bones and resulting in compression of the median nerve.

Q2. In which trimester does a pregnant woman experience CTS?

Ans: CTS is usually experienced during the final trimester of the gestational period. But in some cases, where the pregnant woman has a history, she may experience this CTS in early pregnancy.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are just suggestions, and the website is in no way responsible for the side effects it may cause. It is better to consult a doctor before you plan anything, especially when you are pregnant.


About Yashasvi

Yashasvi developed a deep passion for writing ever since she was completed her Master’s in Mass Communication and Journalism from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam and has chosen a career that is driven by creativity. A Parenting expert who believes in communicating effectively with a personal touch, she writes about pregnancy, baby care, lifestyle, and just about anything else.