Medically reviewed by Dr Kristy June Dinampo.
Pregnancy comes with a huge range of potential symptoms, many of which you may never have considered to be linked together.
For instance, did you know that you can develop carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy?
It’s a condition affecting the hands and wrists so you might be wondering what has that got to do with a growing bump?
Why Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is Common in Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a strange time indeed!
What you might not be aware of is that carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is actually very common during pregnancy and is actually caused by swelling within the wrists, due to a build-up of fluid.
It’s not just your belly that gets bigger during pregnancy, but your wrists, your ankles, your butt, your everything!
Again, it’s a wonderful time.
This swelling within the wrist pushes down on a large nerve which runs up from your hand, called the median nerve.
The result is a tingling, numbness and frequently pain in the wrist, hands, and fingers.
It’s not just painful it can also affect how you grip things and move your hand.
CTS is more common during the second trimester when things are starting to grow at a much faster rate, and therefore pressure on that nerve could be exacerbated by fluid collections.
The bad news is that if you do develop it during one pregnancy, the chances of you experiencing it in another pregnancy are quite high.
Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Serious?
Fortunately, there is no risk to your baby from CTS, but it can be painful and very uncomfortable for you.
It is possible that the syndrome may continue on after the birth of your baby, as the swelling isn’t guaranteed to go down immediately.
You should notice that the symptoms disappear three months after your baby is born.
This is when your body returns back to its normal state, and your hormones have also leveled out, which affects the amount of swelling (also known as edema) in your body.
Some people develop CTS outside of pregnancy, and this can be due to a number of risk factors. These are usually linked to a person’s job (e.g. typing, manual labor jobs).
But even using a mobile phone for too long is a risk factor, and there is actually a link between excessive selfie-taking and CTS!
What Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Feel Like?
If you’re at all worried about swelling in your wrists and any symptoms you might be experiencing, have a chat with your doctor or midwife to put your mind at rest.
Again, CTS isn’t dangerous, but it is uncomfortable.
Any advice on how to minimize the discomfort will be welcome.
You will probably notice the symptoms are worse in your dominant hand, so if you’re right-handed, it’s likely to be worse in that hand.
You’ll notice it mainly in your middle finger,your first finger, as well as the wrist. And could also present as an aching feeling.
You’ll probably notice more stiffness and pain in the morning, or after you’ve been using your hands a lot.
The other symptoms are tingling, pins and needles, and numbness, as well as issues with grip.
There are certain risk factors for CTS that you should be aware of. You’re more likely to develop it if:
- You have a family history
- You have issues with your musculoskeletal syndrome in general, e.g your shoulder, back, or neck, especially if you have had an injury such as whiplash before
- You are expecting twins, triplets, or more
- You have weight issues prior to pregnancy
Can I Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy?
There are some preventative measures you can use which may reduce the chances of you developing CTS during your pregnancy.
- Keeping your weight in check. It is entirely possible to avoid putting on too much weight during pregnancy, by eating a healthy diet, and being as active as you can be
- Drink plenty of water for hydration
- Try to eat foods which are high in B6 vitamins, as this will boost your overall immune system
- Make sure you’re wearing a well-fitting, comfortable bra, to avoid extra pressure on any part of your body which the median nerve travels through
How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Treated?
During pregnancy, CTS is mainly treated via conservative measures, e.g. reducing pain and discomfort.
The hope is that after birth the symptoms and condition will disappear, therefore not requiring any invasive treatment methods.
The following are common ways to treat CTS during pregnancy:
- Wear hand splints while sleeping, to stop your hands moving into curled positions
- Use cold compresses against the most painful parts of your hand
- Do regular exercises with your hands and risks to move fluid (your midwife or doctor will be able to show you these specific exercises)
- Keep your hands elevated whenever you can
- Massage on the hands and wrists
- Possible acupuncture and acupressure
- Chamomile tea to reduce swelling (speak to your midwife or doctor about how much of this you can drink, as you may need to limit your amount during pregnancy)
You might never have considered a hand and wrist issue to be a symptom of pregnancy, but such is the joy and wonder of growing a baby within you.
The good news is that CTS will normally go away on its own once you’ve given birth.
If it doesn’t, this is something to seek specialist help about, as it could be due to an underlying issue related to something other than pregnancy.
With the amount of computer work, smartphone use, and other technological methods we use these days, CTS is on the rise.
While it might be uncomfortable, be reassured by the fact that this is not an issue which can affect your new bundle of joy.
CTS is something which can be treated effectively.