Carpal Tunnel and Pregnancy cover

Carpal Tunnel and Pregnancy

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs due to increased pressure around the median nerve at the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be a common occurrence during pregnancy. Read on to learn the link between carpal tunnel and pregnancy.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from tissue inflammation in the wrist, affecting the proper function of the median nerve. This nerve passes through the carpal tunnel at the wrist from the forearm to the fingers.

When tissues in the carpal tunnel swell due to inflammation, they exert pressure on the median nerve, affecting its function in the fingers. As a result, your fingers feel numb, and you’ll notice a sensation of pins and needles. As such, carpal tunnel syndrome is also referred to as median nerve compression.

Common symptoms include:

  • Numbness and tingling in the thumb and fingers (rarely the pinky, though)
  • Pain in the hand and wrist
  • Weakened hand grip strength
  • A feeling of swelling in hand and fingers even when they appear normal
  • Loss of finger sensation when the condition goes untreated
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome anatomy, the Harley Clinic

Who is at Risk of Developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Although this condition can affect anyone, it is more common in some groups of people.

These include:

  • People working with power tools that send strong vibrations through the wrist
  • Musicians whose instruments require significant wrist involvement to play
  • Individuals who have diabetes and other nerve-damaging medical conditions
  • Overweight people
  • Women more than men
  • Pregnant women

What is the Link Between Carpal Tunnel and Pregnancy?

Between a third to a half of pregnant women develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Although the exact link between the two conditions isn’t clear-cut, many scientists point to increased fluid retention during pregnancy.

When you’re expecting a baby, your body releases more hormones, increasing the volume of blood and other bodily fluids. This is usually identified by the tell-tale swollen ankles in pregnancy. 

The increase in bodily fluids exerts pressure throughout the body. This also includes the carpal tunnel, where the larger fluid volume increases the pressure exerted on the median nerve in the narrow space at the wrist.

Compressing the nerve results in the various symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Indeed, these symptoms are more pronounced during the third trimester when the body retains the most fluid.

Treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Pregnancy

Your doctor might recommend a more conservative treatment approach if you’re pregnant and experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome’s uncomfortable and painful symptoms. This is because the condition will usually subside after you’ve given birth.

However, if you’re committed to alleviating these symptoms immediately, you can consult your doctor for appropriate treatment strategies.

These include:

  • Resting from activities that involve repetitive wrist movement
  • Using a splint to immobilise the wrist so that it can rest
  • Hand massage to improve fluid drainage in the carpal tunnel
  • Cold therapy to reduce swelling in the wrist
  • Hand exercises
  • Topical anti-inflammatory medications (pain-relieving ointments)
  • Pregnancy-safe pain medication (recommended by your doctor) 

Although carpal tunnel release surgery effectively alleviates median nerve compression, it isn’t advisable to conduct it during pregnancy. Therefore, your doctor will only operate if it’s necessary.

If you want to discuss treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome or are concerned about carpal tunnel and pregnancy, book a consultation with a hand specialist at The Harley Clinic.

Further Reading: 

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