Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Is Your Pregnancy A Factor?

You might not expect to experience tingling, numbness or pain in your wrist or hand during pregnancy, but these symptoms are not as uncommon as you may think. Your symptoms may be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that affects the median nerve at the wrist. While the majority of carpal tunnel cases are caused by repetitive motion stress, many pregnant women experience this condition as well

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs due to strain on the median nerve. The nerve, which passes through the carpal tunnel of the back of the wrist, may become pinched or compressed for a number of reasons. The condition is prevalent in those who perform repetitive motion tasks, such as typing, welding or cashier work, although there are other causes as well. Surprisingly, carpal tunnel syndrome is not uncommon during pregnancy.

During the second or third trimester of pregnancy, fluid retention often occurs in many women. The excess fluid may cause swelling of the ankles, hands and wrists. When swelling presses against the medium nerve for an extended amount of time, carpal tunnel syndrome may occur. This condition often disappears shortly after childbirth, or symptoms may persist for a period of time after giving birth. 

What Are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome During Pregnancy?

The first symptom you may notice is tingling of your fingers or entire hand. If the median nerve is severely pinched, tingling and numbness may be accompanied by pain. The pain may affect your fingers, hand and wrist, although the discomfort may extend to the forearm.

In addition, you may notice your fingers appear swollen. The wrist may also swell and feel warm to the touch. You may also find it difficult to bend your wrist, write or hold an object.

How is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

If you suspect you have developed carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, it is important to consult with your physician. Your doctor may perform a few simple tests to determine nerve damage in your hand and wrist. He or she may examine your hand and wrist function.

In addition, your doctor may suggest an electromyogram. This test will note electrical activity of the median nerve and may provide a conclusive diagnosis. It is performed by placing electrodes on your skin that attach to a machine through wires.

What Are the Treatment Options?

  • Immobilizing the wrist: If diagnosed with carpal tunnel during your pregnancy, your doctor may suggest the temporary use of a wrist brace or splint. This will help alleviate the pressure and avoid placing further strain on the wrist.

  • Physical therapy: Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy with a licensed physiotherapist. Your regimen may include simple hand and wrist exercises that may be followed up at home. The use of specialized equipment may also be helpful.

    Your physical therapy may also include the use of heat or cold applications. Alternating between the two may be effective, or you might need to experiment to determine which application works best for you. 

  • Nutritional supplements: Studies show a higher incidence of carpal tunnel in individuals with inadequate vitamin B6 levels.If your physician believes you have a vitamin B6 deficiency, he or she may prescribe supplements. Another way to increase your vitamin B6 levels is by consuming green, leafy vegetables, yams and garbanzo beans.

Something to Keep in Mind

It is never a good idea to risk exposing an unborn baby to chemicals or oral medications. Keeping this in mind, it's best to err on the side of caution. Never take oral pain relievers or herbal remedies during your pregnancy without the consent of your doctor.