Of all the symptoms women experience during pregnancy, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can be considered one of the most annoying ones. The onset of symptoms begin to appear during the mid-to-late part of pregnancy and the condition is caused by the rise of fluid levels that pinch the nerves that are found in the carpal tunnel passageway. Unfortunately, symptoms can persist for months after giving birth but rest assured, symptoms do go away eventually. Many pregnant women have reported experiencing numbness in one or both of their hands which is usually accompanied by a prickling pins and needles feeling. It’s not exactly painful in the vast majority of cases but is causes some discomfort in the wrists, hands and fingers. It can also result in the inability to grip objects as well as you used to so exercising extra caution during this time is key.
While carpal tunnel syndrome is common in anyone other than pregnant women, due to overuse caused by repetitive motions. For example, regular and consistent computer keyboard use, pregnant women are more susceptible due to fluid level build-up as well as repetitive day-to-day actions. The following is an overview of the condition and methods that can be used to alleviate the symptoms you may be experiencing. You can take comfort in knowing that like many other things experienced during pregnancy, this condition will also be a thing a the past after your bundle of joy arrives. Hang in there, it gets better!
15 The Main Cause
As mentioned above, carpal tunnel syndrome is described as the combined feeling of numbness and tingling within your fingers, hands and wrists. The swelling that you may experience is due to fluid build-up. Blood volume can increase by up to 50% in order to support a healthy pregnancy and that can put pressure on nerves within the carpal tunnel passageway - the small space in your wrist that’s formed by the surrounding wrist bones. The result is a reduction in the amount of space within the carpal tunnel passageway which will ultimately lead to a lack of sensitivity in your hands, fingers and wrists. The compressed median nerve - the main nerve in the carpal tunnel passageway - is affected when pressure begins to build up. This is an issue (but entirely normal) in that this nerve directly affects feeling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and part of the ring finger.
14 Location of the Discomfort
In some cases, these feelings of numbness don’t stay localized in the fingers, hands and wrists. The discomfort can radiate up to the forearm in more severe cases and even affect the neck. One or both hands may be affected, with the potential for your most dominant hand to feel the effects first and with more intensity. This is likely due to considerably more reliance on your dominant hand versus your non-dominant hand. The median nerve doesn’t have any affect on your baby finger so if there’s discomfort there, it’s likely not due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Like many new and confusing situations that arise during your pregnancy, if you're ever in doubt about anything, consult with your doctor. They'll be able to diagnose the problem and put you at ease knowing that although a nuisance, this condition is very common and normal for pregnant women to experience. A doctor can also give you exercises to try to keep your condition under control.
13 Diminished Gripping Abilities
While pregnant, many women experience varying degrees of clumsiness. This is mainly due to the shift in your center of gravity and may cause you to stumble or trip on occasion. Also, as your baby bump grows, you’re more likely to bump into things. Again, annoying but completely normal. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome causes a different type of clumsiness. Because the median nerve is compressed and fingers become numb due to lack of sensation, it becomes harder to grip objects tightly. You may find that you’re dropping things more often or need to hold items with both hands to be on the safe side. This is tied to the weakened state of your fingers and thumb. It may also become increasingly more difficult to perform fine motor tasks such as buttoning a shirt or holding a pen to write. Try as best you can to endure because while it's frustrating, it worth it to meet your new bundle of joy at the end of this journey.
12 Severity is Affected by Time of Day
The first telltale signs of symptoms may become noticeable at night when you're trying to get some precious sleep. This occurrence is due to the fact that fluids redistribute throughout your body while you’re laying down. This makes sense since you're in a new position and usually are for an extended period of time. In some causes, the pain and discomfort felt during this time can cause you to wake up. However, the good news is that short-term relief (such as propping up your arms) during the night will help. This nighttime ritual will continue for the remainder of the pregnancy for some women. It may sound a little backwards but consider this another way your body is preparing you for upcoming sleepless nights with your little one. It's possible that by the time they've arrived, you've adjusted to waking up a few times at night. Hopefully that reasoning isn't too much of a stretch!
11 Typically Appears in the Second Half of Pregnancy
This is different for every woman but you may start to feel symptoms around the 24th week of your pregnancy. It will persist for the rest of the pregnancy and even for a few weeks afterwards. As your body begins to slowly rid itself of excess fluids, the pressure you feel in your wrists will begin to subside. Instead of feeling numbness in all fingers, hands or even arms, the pressure will gradually reduce and the numbness will only be noticeable in your fingers or thumb. Modifying the amount of repetitive motions you undertake is usually enough to help with the symptoms but in some extreme cases, surgery might be required. Unless the discomfort felt is absolutely unbearable, surgery can wait until after giving birth. If there’s no change to the discomfort you feel after you give birth, your doctor may determine that surgery is needed and will proceed from there.
10 Surgery is Needed in Extreme Cases
Often times the condition goes away on its own, however, there are instances where symptoms worsen. If left untreated, the pain or discomfort that was localized in your hands and wrists may travel up the arms and to the shoulder and neck. Surgery may be needed to cut the ligament found on top of the carpal tunnel to relieve some of the pressure build-up by creating more space. The extra space this creates will go a long way to completely eliminating the symptoms you’re experiencing. Take note that your wrist will swell immediately after surgery but within two months you’ll notice a distinct difference to the feeling in your hands and elsewhere. A wrist splint and frequent movement of your fingers will also help during the recovery process. It may take upwards of six months to a year to completely recover. If nothing is done, the affected muscles may atrophy and permanently affect sensation. As always, consult with your doctor for advice on how best to proceed.
9 What Isn’t Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
It’s important that if you’re unsure of whether or not you’re suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, that you visit your doctor. There are other conditions that have similar symptoms to carpal tunnel syndrome but they require a different course of action to remedy them.
Other possible causes of the numbness or tingling feeling may be related to a muscle, ligament or tendon injury. As the hormone relaxin increases throughout your pregnancy (in preparation for birth and enabling your body to accommodate your baby moving through the birth canal), it becomes easier to over extend your muscles (you may have noticed you're a little more flexible than before getting pregnant - thank your hormones). If you suffer from diabetes or even arthritis, the symptoms for these conditions can be confused with symptoms for carpal tunnel syndrome. Doctors will use simple tests such as the the Phalen or Tinel tests to confirm whether or not your median nerve has been affected.
8 How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
There doesn’t seem to be any way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from happening all together. Fortunately, minimizing repetitive motions is key to reducing your symptoms. If you're on a computer for extended periods of time, be sure to take frequent breaks to alleviate pressure on your wrists. While sitting at a computer you can also do hand stretches or rotate your wrists to help with discomfort experienced after long stretches of typing. Do these throughout your day to help when you start to feel the onset of symptoms.
A wrist splint worn at night will also alleviate discomfort resulting from pressure build-up. Finally, try to relax. When we feel stressed it’s common for muscles to tighten, you may even realize that you’re clenching your fists. Release the tension and try to be conscious of your response to stress. Check in with yourself throughout your day and monitor your response to the environment around you.
7 Natural Remedies are Useful
Your doctor may prescribe the use of a wrist splint, especially at night, if your symptoms are causing discomfort. The splint will help to keep your wrists straight so that your symptoms and pain aren’t intensified while you sleep. If you’re experiencing pain, a cold compress at night will also help to alleviate the discomfort. Pain medication that your doctor deems safe for your pregnancy (such as Tylenol) may also be an option to help you manage your pain. In extreme causes a corticosteroid may be prescribed, but only after you’ve given birth (to eliminate any potential risks to your unborn baby) and can be injected or taken orally. This can reduce the amount of swelling affecting the median nerve and provide you with some much needed relief. Extreme cases are rare during pregnancy but it can happen so be prepared with options to manage pain naturally until after you've given birth and can treat the condition more aggressively.
6 Proper Posture Goes a Long Way
Because pregnant women who use a computer regularly are highly susceptible to developing carpal tunnel syndrome, relying on proper posture will go a long way in minimizing the effects and discomfort being felt. If an ergonomic keyboard (they help your hands sit more naturally at a keyboard) isn’t accessible, try to keep wrist as straight as you can while typing. Too much twisting or flexing around your wrists isn’t a natural position and adds to the strain experienced during repetitive motions. Sit tall with your elbows raised slightly higher than your wrists, you may need to adjust your chair height to help with this. With this posture, your wrists can drop naturally versus being forced to tilt upwards to compensate for lowered elbows. It may seem like such a small thing to consider but typing a little softer can also help since it requires less movement.
5 Take Pressure off of Your Hands
At night, many of us like to rest our heads on our hands or clasp them between our knees, however this added pressure isn’t helpful for relieving the discomfort caused by the condition. With swelling and the added pressure from a body part pressing against your hands, it can aggravate the discomfort felt which can in turn heighten the prickling feeling and numbness. It will take a little training but a quick remedy is to take the pressure off and don’t sleep on your hands. You can instead keep your hands and arms elevated with the use of pillows or shake and flex your hands when you wake up to allow for optimal blood circulation. If possible (it can be difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position as your baby bump grows), you can also hang your hands or arms over the side of the bed to help with circulation.
4 The Benefits of Acupuncture
There’s some evidence that suggests that acupuncture can help to reduce the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome. Developed in China thousands of years ago, the purpose of acupuncture is to restore balance to your body and optimize health. There are various acupuncture points in the body that correspond to different nerves so activating these nerves can trigger brain signals that can relieve pain symptoms.
Be aware that there are places on the body that should be avoided while pregnant. For instance, the pressure points located around the ankles are believed to induce labor. If you’re not to term yet, avoid this area. Alternately, if your due date has come and gone and you’re now more than ready to give birth, give it a try. Your doctor will be able to provide more insight into the benefits associated with this course of action so they should be consulted before you start this procedure.
3 The Benefits of Acupressure
If being poked with needles isn’t your thing (understandable since there’s a lot of this already during pregnancy), acupressure is an alternative. You may have heard of Shiatsu which is the most popular form of acupressure. It uses the same pressure points as acupuncture but instead of using needles it uses firm massages to deliver pressure. It’s been known to provide much needed pain relief and can minimize general discomfort that appears during pregnancy but you should be aware that the process can be painful because of the amount of pressure used and can lead to bruising.
Again, always check with your doctor first before starting a remedial course of action. If you’re given the green light, try to find a practitioner with experience working with pregnant women. Be mindful of what your body is telling you, you shouldn’t feel any new pain during or after the procedure so see your doctor if this happens.
2 The Benefits of Pre-Natal Yoga
Staying active during pregnancy is very important. Prenatal yoga is a low impact option that will keep you fit and limber for the big day (you've likely heard that labor and delivery is like a slow and steady marathon in most cases). While the science behind yoga and carpal tunnel syndrome relief is still being studied, some initial studies have shown that postures designed to strengthen and stretch the upper body had noticeably different outcomes when compared to study participants who wore wrist splints or those who didn’t who didn’t receive any treatment at all for their symptoms. While the evidence is building to support the benefits of yoga, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to confirm whether this is an activity that you can safely partake in and whether the benefits extend to joint and nerve pain relief.
1 Managing After Childbirth
Because numbness can persist for a few weeks or months after giving birth, it can make caring for a newborn difficult. Whether it’s holding your new bundle of joy during feeding times or getting them dressed (which can happen frequently during the day if your little one spits up a lot) numb hands and fingers can make these tasks take a little longer to complete. To help with feeding, you can use a nursing pillow to help support your baby. If you’re breastfeeding, you can consider lying down to do so but be mindful of your wrist position so as to avoid aggravating the discomfort you’re already feeling. When it comes to dressing your newborn, consider using bibs to keep spit-up off of their clothes. They also allow you to quickly wipe up after your baby and are far easier to change than clothes if you’re experiencing a lot of pain or discomfort.