Carpal tunnel syndrome and pregnancy
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when swelling in your wrist presses on a nerve and causes pain in your hand.
- It’s common in pregnancy and usually goes away after your baby is born.
- It can cause pain, numbness and tingling in your thumb, index finger and middle finger. It can also cause weakness in your hand and pain going up your arm.
- You can modify your daily activities to reduce your pain.
- See a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to learn exercises and get a special wrist splint fitted to help relieve pain.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs as a result of swelling around the nerves of your wrist. It can cause numbness, tingling or pain in one or both of your hands.
If you are pregnant, you’re particularly susceptible to the disorder. Up to 5 out of every 10 people who are pregnant develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is a passage in your wrist that contains tendons and a nerve, called the median nerve, that run through the base of your hand. The carpal tunnel can swell and press against this sensitive nerve, causing pain.
While pregnancy is one cause, other common causes include arthritis or repetitive hand movements, which may occur in some jobs. Visit this healthdirect page for information about carpal tunnel syndrome unrelated to pregnancy.
How does pregnancy cause carpal tunnel syndrome?
When you are pregnant, your hormones cause fluid to build up in your body, which can cause swelling. This can lead to swelling within the carpal tunnel.
The condition is more common in the third trimester, but it can also happen in the first and second trimesters or after you give birth. In most cases, symptoms will go away after your baby is born.
What are the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome?
Common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness of your hand
- difficulty with hand coordination
- pain spreading to your arm or shoulder
You will probably feel the symptoms most in your thumb, index finger and middle finger. Symptoms can get worse at night.
The intensity of symptoms can vary from mild irritation or occasional soreness, to severe pain. Symptoms may stop you from sleeping or make it difficult to perform regular tasks such as working, getting dressed, cooking or caring for your baby.
Things that may make your symptoms worse include:
- repeating the same hand movements frequently
- keeping your hands in the same position for an extended time
- supporting your weight with straightened arms
Swelling may be a sign of high blood pressure in pregnancy. If your hands or feet are more swollen than usual, speak to your doctor or midwife.
What can I do to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome?
You may find that your pain is reduced by the following:
- Keep your hands elevated as much as you can.
- Keep your wrists in a neutral position (not bent forwards or backwards), as much as you can.
- Maintain good posture in your arms and wrists while working at a desk and take breaks every 20 minutes.
- Sleep on the side of your less affected hand.
- Put an ice pack on your wrist or run cold water over your hand.
Here are some things you should avoid:
- Avoid any repeated movements that make your pain worse.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects.
- Avoid tasks where you do the same movement repeatedly.
- Don’t bend your wrist as far as it can go.
Here are some things you can do to relieve general swelling in your body:
- Lie down whenever you can, with your feet elevated.
- Cut down on salt in foods.
- Elevate your legs when you’re sitting down.
- Wear compression socks or stockings.
Are there any treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome?
Treatment options include physiotherapy or occupational therapy. This may involve fitting you with a splint to keep your wrist in the best position to reduce strain. The splint must be adjusted to fit your wrist in order to be protective and supportive. You should wear your splint at night to keep your wrist in the right position while you’re asleep.
Your therapist will be able to tell you how best to protect your wrist at home, including exercises and resting positions.
You can try fluid drainage massage to reduce the swelling in your hand. You can do this by lifting your arm up and using your other hand to sweep gently along your skin from your fingers towards your shoulder. Be careful not to sweep the other way.
There are other treatments available for carpal tunnel syndrome, such as a cortisone injection into your wrist or even surgery.
Will I still have pain after my baby is born?
Carpal tunnel syndrome tends to ease, and often disappears, after birth. If you still have pain after your baby is born, you may need to change the way you use your wrist. This might affect how you use your hand to hold and care for your baby, including how you feed your baby.
Speak to your physiotherapist, occupational therapist or lactation consultant for strategies and tips on how to minimise strain on your wrist while holding your newborn. It’s a good idea to continue using your splint, if you have one.
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Last reviewed: June 2022