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Can carpal tunnel in pregnancy cause pain and numbness in my hands and fingers?
Yes. Numbness, tingling, pain, or a dull ache in the fingers, hand, or wrist are all signs of carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is very common in pregnant women as well as in people who make repetitive hand movements, such as working on an assembly line or a computer.
During pregnancy, symptoms of carpal tunnel tend to come and go and are often worse at night. Occasionally the discomfort can extend to your forearm and upper arm. In severe or chronic cases, your hand may feel clumsy or weak.
Carpal tunnel syndrome in pregnancy can start any time, but it's more likely to begin or worsen during the second trimester. Carpal tunnel syndrome usually affects both hands.
What causes carpal tunnel in pregnancy?
Fluid retention (which is common during pregnancy) can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Fluid retention causes swelling and increases pressure on the carpal tunnel, a bony canal formed by the wrist bones on three sides and a ligament that runs across the wrist on the other. The increased pressure in this relatively narrow and inflexible space compresses the median nerve that runs through it, causing the painful symptoms of carpal tunnel.
(The median nerve gives sensation to the thumb and the index, middle, and half of the ring finger and is also responsible for movement of a muscle at the base of the thumb.)
Pregnant women tend to retain more fluid in the second half of pregnancy, which is why symptoms are usually worse later in pregnancy.
How can I relieve the pain of carpal tunnel during pregnancy?
To relieve discomfort, try to identify what activities tend to cause or aggravate carpal tunnel syndrome for you, and limit those activities during pregnancy as much as you can. Doing yoga can improve hand strength and may relieve your symptoms.
You can also make adjustments to your workstation, such as:
- Adjust the height of your desk chair so your wrists don't bend downward as you type on your computer.
- Use an ergonomic keyboard or mouse.
- Take short breaks to move your arms and stretch your hands.
If symptoms bother you at night:
- Avoid sleeping on your hands.
- If you wake up with pain, try gently shaking your hands until the pain or numbness goes away.
When should I call my healthcare provider about carpal tunnel symptoms?
During pregnancy, contact your provider if the pain and numbness interfere with your sleep or daily routine and before taking any pain medication. Your provider may suggest wearing a wrist splint or hand brace, which often relieves carpal tunnel syndrome. Stabilizing the wrist in a neutral position (not bent) with a splint or brace slightly widens the carpal tunnel.
After delivery, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may gradually go away without treatment as the swelling from pregnancy subsides, but they can last longer if you're breastfeeding.
If symptoms persist after your baby is born, or if your symptoms are severe (meaning you have constant numbness, muscle weakness, or loss of sensation), be sure to mention it to your healthcare provider at one of your postpartum visits so you can get a referral to a specialist.
The specialist may suggest using a splint if you aren't doing so and taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (which isn't recommended during pregnancy). If these treatments don't help, the next step might be cortisone injections, ultrasound therapy, or physical therapy. In severe cases, minor surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure on your median nerve.