Coping with Carpal Tunnel During Pregnancy

pregnant mom holding wrist Carpal Tunnel

If you are experiencing sudden hand pain during pregnancy, a case of pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel may be to blame! The good news is most cases will clear up after your baby is born. In the meantime, here is everything you need to know, from how to relieve the pain to what causes carpal tunnel in the first place.

What is pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel?

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is caused when swelling in your wrist presses on a nerve (the median nerve) and causes pain. About four percent of all adults will experience carpal tunnel at some point, but pregnancy significantly increases these odds to anywhere between 30 to 60 percent of pregnant people having it. 

This is because pregnancy greatly increases the amount of blood and fluid in the body, leading to additional swelling and more opportunities for carpal tunnel. Pregnancy can also mean decreased physical activity, which may minimize circulation and exacerbate symptoms.

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Some additional risk factors may include obesity or gestational diabetes, which can contribute to swelling. If you have experienced pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome in previous pregnancies, it is much more likely that you will experience it again. Prior injuries may increase your risk of carpal tunnel, or if you have a close family member, such as a mother or sister, who has experienced pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel, you may be susceptible.  

Often associated with repetitive motions (things like typing, knitting and crocheting, or playing an instrument), carpal tunnel is more likely to occur in individuals who are performing tasks that utilize the hands or wrist. 

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you will be able to prevent it entirely, but you can minimize the associated pain and discomfort. Taking sufficient breaks, stretching hand and wrist muscles, and encouraging circulation can help reduce carpal tunnel symptoms. 

Symptoms of carpal tunnel 

Typically, if you are going to experience carpal tunnel during pregnancy, you will experience symptoms at or around thirty weeks. While pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel usually occurs in the third trimester, symptoms can occur as early as the first trimester. 

Carpal tunnel symptoms can include:

  • Dull ache or throbbing pain in the hand and wrist. 
  • Numbness and/or tingling in the thumb, index, and middle finger. 
  • Pins and needle sensation in the hand.  
  • Stiffness in the hand or wrist. 
  • A hot and swollen thumb. 
  • Decreased dexterity and a weak grip. 

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Symptoms are often worse at night as fluids throughout the body are redistributed. 

How to find relief 

Pregnancy can be filled with all kinds of new sensations and discomfort as your body grows and changes to accommodate new life. If you are experiencing pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel, here are some ideas you can try to find relief. 

  • Avoid sleeping on the affected side. 
  • Wear a brace to keep your wrist from bending. 
  • Get fitted for a maternity bra that can redistribute weight and take pressure off your median nerve. 
  • Minimize unnecessary wrist activity that could cause strain. 
  • Ask your medical care provider for a physical therapy referral and/or some stretches you can try at home. 
  • Limit salt as it can cause water retention and increase swelling. 
  • Elevate and rest your arm and wrist when possible.  
  • Alternate using cold and heat therapy to relax muscles and reduce swelling. 
  • Take a pregnancy-safe pain reliever such as Tylenol. [NOTE: Do not take pain-relieving medication containing ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil are some examples), as it can be very dangerous for your unborn baby.]

Pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel will generally go away on its own after you deliver your baby and as your pregnancy swelling decreases. However, it may take up to six weeks or even a year, so don’t be alarmed if this symptom lingers a while after your baby is born. 

Things to look out for

Because carpal tunnel is caused by swelling and increased swelling during pregnancy can be a sign of preeclampsia, it is important to not dismiss any changes you notice. 

If your swelling comes on suddenly or if you experience additional symptoms such as swelling that extends to the face, severe persistent headaches, blurred or double vision, or small amounts of urine which are dark-colored— reach out to your medical care provider immediately so they can assess your condition. 



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